Capitalism at its finest. Ian James of the Desert Sun did an investigative report in March:
In a rocky canyon in the San Bernardino National Forest, pipes carry water from springs high on the mountainside down to a roadside tank and from there to tanker trucks which haul it to a bottling plant to be sold as Arrowhead 100% Mountain Spring Water to the profit of Nestle. How sweet and bucolic, except for a few tiny things – there’s a drought; the Forest Service hasn’t been monitoring the environmental impacts, and oh yes Nestle’s permit expired 28 years ago.
Nestle Waters North America holds a longstanding right to use this water from the national forest near San Bernardino. But the U.S. Forest Service hasn’t been keeping an eye on whether the taking of water is harming Strawberry Creek and the wildlife that depends on it. In fact, Nestle’s permit to transport water across the national forest expired in 1988. It hasn’t been reviewed since, and the Forest Service hasn’t examined the ecological effects of drawing tens of millions of gallons each year from the springs.
Even with California deep in drought, the federal agency hasn’t assessed the impacts of the bottled water business on springs and streams in two watersheds that sustain sensitive habitats in the national forest. The lack of oversight is symptomatic of a Forest Service limited by tight budgets and focused on other issues, and of a regulatory system in California that allows the bottled water industry to operate with little independent tracking of the potential toll on the environment.
Well hey, it’s not like they’re using the water to keep their lawns green. It’s drinking water. That’s got to be good, right? Especially in a drought! If Nestle didn’t bottle it it would just go to waste up there.
While the Forest Service has allowed Nestle to keep using an expired permit for nearly three decades, the agency has cracked down on other water users in the national forest. Several years ago, for instance, dozens of cabin owners were required to stop drawing water from a creek when their permits came up for renewal. Nestle has faced no such restrictions.
That’s because…um…Nestle gets the water out to all the people! It’s the invisible hand, dammit, and it’s the best way to everything.
But for real, it’s a long detailed story.