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Nestlé and the drought in California

Like all Californians, we at Nestlé Waters are deeply concerned about the effect this drought is having on families, farmers, consumers and businesses. After all, the state is home to more than 7,000 Nestlé employees and their families. As California plans for another year of drought conditions, all water use is understandably being closely examined.
The Governor has called for mandatory water reductions of 25% in cities and towns across the state. In light of this, Nestlé is committed to doubling down on our drought mitigation efforts.
Of the 50 billion cubic metres of water used in California each year, Nestlé uses less than 4 million cubic metres in all its operations. Much of the bottled water, food and beverages we make in the state are consumed in the state and we are intensifying our efforts to ensure that we use water as efficiently as possible. 


How severe is the current drought in California?

According to The US Drought Monitor, in early April 44% of the state was affected by drought. Data from the California Department of Water Resources suggests that the snow pack in the California Sierra Nevada is at 5% of “normal” historic conditions. This directly impacts groundwater aquifer levels as 70% of the state’s water supply comes from this snow pack run off. Based on data by the Sanford Woods Institute for the Environment, 60% of the state’s water needs are met by groundwater.


How much worse could this drought get under a “business as usual” scenario? 

Projections by the World Resources Institute suggest that if global carbon emissions continue to rise and world economic development remains stable, much of California could see an increase in total water demand of 20%, and up to 70% in some areas, over the next 15 years.

According to the Association of California Water Agencies, approximately 75% of precipitation occurs in Northern California, while 75% of water use is in Southern California. Therefore, trans-boundary surface water transfers to Southern California (via aqueducts) are an important part of the California water supply scenario, which may contribute to the improved availability of water resources in the long-term.

Nestlé’s nine factories in California use 3.9 million m3 per year. If Nestlé were to shut down all its factories in California, the resulting annual water savings would not exceed 0.3% of the Governor’s saving targets for residential and public users (assuming 50 billion m3 (13 trillion gallons) total water usage in California and 12% household consumption (USGS Ca)). This compares with 6 billion m3 (1.6 trillion gallons) of water used every year in the alfalfa production (National Geographic.)


How are you responding to the drought in California and accusations against your company?

We are in discussions with the World Resources Institute to find further opportunities to save water. We will build on the progress we have made in recent years to ensure our factories in the state are best-in-class for water efficiency within their product categories. To help us achieve this we will implement the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) International Water Stewardship Standard in all our California operations within two years. The AWS Standard is a globally-consistent framework that outlines the expectations of responsible water stewardship. Work is underway at the NWNA factories in Cabazon and Ontario. In addition, we will intensify our work with our suppliers to ensure they use water as efficiently as possible. We will continue to engage fully with all stakeholders in the communities in which we operate, and throughout the state. 


How do you respond to criticism that water bottling activities by Nestlé Waters and other water companies contribute to the problems caused by the drought in California?

The water used in all of the bottled water products produced in California represents only a fraction of the water used by industrial consumers in California. Of the 108 bottled water plants operating in California, five are operated by Nestlé Waters. We believe that the responsible management of water resources by all users is an absolute necessity and we committed to responsible water management. We continue to actively seek new ways to improve our operations in California to further conserve water. We have made investments in all five of our Nestlé Waters North America facilities in the state to further reduce the amount of water used for bottling and non-bottling processes. In 2014, we invested in conservation measures, which are projected to save at least 5.3 million litres / 5,300 m3 (1.4 million gallons) of water in California each year.


What is the size of your water activities in California?

Nestlé Waters North America operates five of the 108 bottled water plants in California and Nestlé has four food factories in that state. We are a proportionally small water user compared to agriculture and other light industrial water consumers. The five bottling plants use around 2.75 million m3 (725 million gallons) compared with 6,000 million m3 (1,580 billion gallons) used for the alfalfa production.


How do you respond to critics that say bottling groundwater for profit is not a responsible use of water when people have the option of drinking tap water?

Industry data shows that 70% of growth in the bottled water beverage category comes from people switching from caloric beverages because it provides convenient, healthy hydration. Bottled water leads other packaged beverage products with respect to environmental performance when considering the full value chain. It takes up to 550 litres (145 gallons) of water to make one litre (34 fl oz) of soft drink (Ercin, Aldaya & Hockstra, 2011), whereas it takes 2.0 litres (0.5 gallon) of water to
make a litre (34 fl oz) of bottled water. It is also a crucial source of drinking water when tap water infrastructure is temporarily unavailable, such as in the wake of natural disasters.


How do you respond to criticism that your bottling of water in drought affected areas is contrary to claims that your company respects the human right to water?

Access to water is a basic human right. All people have the right to clean water to meet their hydration and basic hygiene needs. Guidance by the WHO and the United Nations puts this at 50 to 100 litres (13 to 26 gallons) of water per person per day. We have explicitly incorporated the recognition of and respect for the human right to water into our Nestlé Corporate Business Principles. In the Nestlé Water Stewardship Commitment, we commit to ensuring that this right is respected through measures such as diligence processes to evaluate our potential impact on a community’s right to water, as well as the long-term availability of water resources.


How much groundwater do you extract from the Cabazon bottling site?

The Nestlé Waters Cabazon bottling facility’s water use represents a fraction of 1% (0.2%) of total demand for water in the neighbouring Coachella Valley. For comparison, more than 17% of the total demand for water in the valley comes from water used to irrigate golf courses, more than 120 million m3 (100,000 acre-feet) of water per year (Coachella Valley Water Management Plan 2010 Update).

Across southern California, we can source from any of five high quality spring water supplies. Depending on local conditions, we diversify the springs we use to avoid over-reliance on any one spring. Our monitoring shows that our mitigation efforts have been effective in ensuring that our California operations are not adversely impacting the springs or surrounding ground water levels.


As you don’t disclose your water withdrawals from the Cabazon site, how can the public be certain that your extraction activities aren’t having a negative impact on groundwater levels?

We understand the public’s interest in this information. The water that we bottle at the spring in Cabazon in Southern California’s Coachella Valley belongs to the Morongo Band of Mission Indians. The Tribe, which is recognised as a sovereign nation, sells this water to Nestlé Waters North America and it is the governing authority with respect to the company’s water use.

The Tribe and our company share a commitment to ensuring that this groundwater supply is sustainably managed for the long-term. We report our water use from the aquifer supplying our Cabazon operation each month to the appropriate governing body, which in this case, is the sovereign Morongo Tribe. In addition, we have regular meetings with Tribal water officials and a neutral third-party expert from a Southern California regional water agency to discuss local conditions and water conservation efforts.

Nestlé Waters’ operating agreement with the Tribe limits the company’s ability to report publicly on our operations. We can however confirm that the Nestlé Waters Cabazon bottling facility, at its maximum production capacity, would represent a fraction of 1% (0.2%) of total demand for water in the neighbouring Coachella Valley.

What controls do you have in place at the Cabazon facility to make sure that you aren’t negatively impacting the long-term viability of this water source?

We consistently monitor groundwater levels at this site, which allows us to identify any potential risks and to take prompt mitigation action to avoid negatively impacting the local aquifer system. In addition, we have in place a programme at this facility which includes curtailing withdrawals depending on conditions at the spring site. Our monitoring shows that our mitigation efforts have been effective in ensuring that our operations are not adversely impacting the springs or surrounding ground water levels.

Our LEED certified “Silver” Cabazon plant uses equipment and procedures that limit water loss during production, including water recovery for factory use. In 2014, we completed the upgrade at Cabazon that takes us from wet to dry lubrication on our production lines. For Cabazon alone, this is projected to save 5.3 million litres / 5,300 m3 (1.4 million gallons) of water use in California annually. Our other California locations are already converted to dry lubrication.

In addition, we returned the equivalent of 9% of our processing water back to California aquifers in 2013 as a result of the treatment and groundwater reintroduction process in place at our California facilities.


Why has NWNA been allowed to operate for decades with an expired permit?

We understand that our permit is one of hundreds of permit awaiting renewal by the US Forest Service (USFS). The USFS has repeatedly informed Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) that we can lawfully continue our operations pending the reissuance of our special use permit and that the provisions of our existing permit continue in force until the effective date of a new permit. NWNA has continued to receive and pay the invoices from the USFS for the annual permit fee as we have since the permit was originally issued. We also continue to report our water use from the spring to the State Water Resources Control Board.


When will NWNA’s Special Use Permit be re-issued?

The US Forest Service is responsible for reissuing the special use permit, which covers the operation of our pipeline and catchment operations at Arrowhead Springs.


What is the status of this permit?

In a letter to Nestlé Waters North America dated 7th April 2015, the US Department of Agriculture, Office of the General Counsel states that: “In the interim, until the US Forest Service renders a decision on Nestlé’s permit application, the current amended permit remains in full force and effect according to its terms, including those provisions requiring compliance with all relevant State and local laws, regulations and orders.”


How do you respond to criticism that your water bottling activities are negatively impacting the ecology of the National Forest?

We share the public’s interest in ensuring the health of the San Bernardino National Forest and the sustainability of its water resources. We are strongly committed to responsible water management. Our Arrowhead brand has been sourced from these mountain springs for 120 years. We only use water that naturally flows to the surface of our spring site, which ensures that our groundwater use is not more than is naturally sustainable. We regularly monitor spring water flows and environmental conditions at our Arrowhead site in Strawberry Canyon, which show that the forest habitat in this canyon and the neighboring canyon are healthy and recovering from the devastating wildfires in 2003. The US Forest Service (USFS) regularly visits our Arrowhead site.


How much water do you extract from the springs in the San Bernadino National Forest?

Our water use is limited to Strawberry Canyon, which is just one of many canyons in the San Bernardino National Forest. In 2014, we used 95 million litres / 95,000m3 (25 million gallons) which represents less than 10% of measured flow by the US Geological Survey monitoring gauge located at
the base of two Canyons, Strawberry Canyon where our springs are located, and neighboring Coldwater Canyon. NWNA complies with all reporting requirements and continues to report its water use from this spring to the State Water Resources Control Board.


How do you respond to criticism that your company is putting a burden on Sacramento’s municipal water supply and disregarding concerns of local communities and residents?

We are strongly committed to responsible water management and fully share concerns about water use and availability, especially during times of drought. Nestlé Waters North America’s water uses a fraction of 1% (0.0016%) of total water demand within the city of Sacramento. We welcome open dialogue with in all communities in which we operate, including Sacramento, about our company’s activities and to address any community questions or concerns. Furthermore, we believe that the responsible management of water resources by all users is an absolute necessity and are committed to working with other stakeholders to ensure the long-term sustainability of the local water supply.


How do you respond to criticism that Nestlé Waters has received preferential treatment by Sacramento city officials and that it underpays for the water it uses?

Our Sacramento facility is a customer of the city of Sacramento just like any other metered industrial business or manufacturer and we all pay the same rate for water. Our company complies with all reporting requirements for the water we use in the city of Sacramento, and we voluntarily make public the amount of water we use.