Nestle Water US Forest Service: The U.S. government is reviewing a water plant after mounting pressure from a lawsuit filed by several environmental groups. Nestle has applied to renew its permit and can continue to operate its water plant in a San Bernardino Mountain canyon while the agency conducts its review process, according to The Guardian.
In December, US Forest Service spokesman John Heil said his agency “has begun the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) review to analyze the effects of re-issuing a special use permit” for the company. Nestle Corp. and its water will be reviewed by the board. Established in 1970, NEPA requires the federal government to use all practical means to create and maintain conditions “under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony.”
It requires agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. “The forest has assigned an interdisciplinary team and is developing the proposed action. When the proposed action is fully developed, the public will be invited to submit comments through the scoping process,” Heil wrote, in a statement.
The Nestle water review by the US Forest Service comes at a time when its permit expired in 1988. Since that time, the Switzerland-based company has been drawing what now amounts to millions of gallons of water from the rugged Strawberry Canyon in the San Bernardino Mountains, north of San Bernardino.
Under Forest Service regulations, expired special use permits, like what Nestle water has, remain in effect until they are either renewed or denied.
“We are pleased the USFS review process is underway,” said Jane Lazgin, spokeswoman for Nestle Waters North America. “We are working with the U.S. Forest Service through the permit renewal process, recognizing the permit remains in effect because the company took the proper steps to request the permit renewal before it became due.
For more than 120 years, the Arrowhead bottle water brand, under many different owners as well as Nestle water, has been fueled by spring water from the San Bernardino Mountains and other springs around the state. NFS officials maintain that the backlog of expired permits has prohibited their review and update of Nestle’s operations, which provide water for the company’s Arrowhead brand of bottled water.
The canyon’s rich natural spring environment has made it an attractive to a diverse group of plant and animal species - including endangered species - and caught the attention of environmentalists concerned about the non-stop removal of water from this canyon during the fourth year of the California drought.
In October, water environmentalists — led by the Center for Biological Diversity — filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Riverside, seeking to force the forest service to begin a scientific study on the effects of the water drawdown as part of its evaluation of the long-expired permit.
In April, an online community group collected more than 135,000 signatures to demand that Nestle discontinue all its water operations in California. Three of Nestle’s five statewide bottling operations are in Southern California.
In late November, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Los Angeles-based Courage Campaign Institute and the Story of Stuff Project, asked the federal district court in Riverside to quickly rule on the case, shut down Nestle’s approximately four-mile long Strawberry Canyon water pipeline and order the Forest Service to begin its environmental study.
The Courage Campaign is the online community group that collected the signatures against the water company.
While the Nestle water review is underway by the US Forest Service, some people question the process. Lisa Belenky, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity in Oakland, said her organization has heard the Forest Service would begin the NEPA process, but even now, the agency has filed no public documents indicating when the public comment period might be.