California is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts on record, and Governor Jerry Brown has called for a 20 percent drop in consumption. There was an emergency state rule passed that has cities restricting outdoor water use and even Lady Gaga is behind a new PSA campaign to get Californians to conserve water. However, due to land and water rights, Nestle continues to be able to bottle Californian water.
The Nestle plant, located in Cabazon, California, provides water for both Arrowhead and Nestle Pure Life. The land is part of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation, west of Palm Springs. This is a desert country where springs are rare and aquifers are in decline.
“The reason this particular plant is of special concern is precisely because water is so scarce in the basin,” president of the Pacific Institute Peter Gleick told The Desert Sun. ”If you had the same bottling plant in a water-rich area, then the amount of water bottled and diverted would be a small fraction of the total water available. But this is a desert ecosystem. Surface water in the desert is exceedingly rare and has a much higher environmental value than the same amount of water somewhere else.”
Originally, the spring in Millard Canyon was used for local drinking water. Then the water rights were sold to the Morongo tribe. Nestle leases the land from the tribe, part of a 25-year deal they signed in the early 2000s after the Morongo Tribe got the water rights, and since the land is considered sovereign land of the Morongo tribe, it’s not subject to state regulations or agencies. Which means the State of California can’t really do anything about Nestle bottling up those precious drops of water. On top of that, no one really knows how much water Nestle is taking. The Morongo Indians aren’t obligated to report data on groundwater pumping or well levels as they are exempt from oversight by local agencies.
“Arrowhead provides a lot of jobs, and that helps the economy. On the other hand, Arrowhead has a reputation of going into small communities and taking advantage — and basically, pump them dry and good to the last drop,” Calvin Louie, the Cabazon Water District’s general manager told USA Today. “Everybody affects the aquifer, the water level, but who’s to blame? Well, you know, when you don’t have the data and when you have no groundwater management, it’s a shot in the dark.”
In fact, as The Desert Sun reports, no one is really sure what’s going on with the stream in Millard Canyon, whose wells Nestle draws its water from. “To what extent the spring may still be flowing isn’t clear because the tribe controls access to that area at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains. But drawing water out of the canyon means less water flowing in the stream and seeping downhill to recharge aquifers.”
While in the short term, it just seems ridiculous to be drawing water and selling it for a profit in a time when the State of California is suffering from a drought, in the long run, if the water runs dry, there will be much worse consequences.
Photo Credit: Wilson Hui