Brown warns Nestle about water plans

Legal News Line Jul. 29, 2008, 1:16pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - A controversial plan to pump pristine water from Northern California's Siskiyou County has now drawn the attention of state Attorney General Jerry Brown.

The Attorney General's office says the state would challenge the environmental plan for a bottled water plant if Nestle doesn't revise its contract to pump water from the McCloud River.

"It takes massive quantities of oil to produce plastic water bottles and to ship them in diesel trucks across the United States," Brown said.

"Nestle will face swift legal challenge if it does not fully evaluate the environmental impact of diverting millions of gallons of spring water from the McCloud River into billions of plastic water bottles," added Brown, a Democrat.

Ninety-six percent of bottled water in the United States is sold in plastic bottles produced from fossil fuels, according to the attorney general's office.

"It took 17 million barrels of oil," a statement says, "not including transportation energy, to produce all the plastic bottles for American consumption in 2006."

Nestle and the city of McCloud has withstood many legal challenges to the deal in the last few years.

The bottling company offered to reduce its annual water take to 195 million gallons of spring water per year. At that quantity, it would fill 3.1 billion eight-ounce plastic bottles.

But the company has not agreed to change the terms of its contract with McCloud Community Service District, which would allow the company to draw 520 gallons of water each year, the attorney general's office says.

Brown told the Siskiyou County Planning Department that the environmental review has "serious deficiencies" that should require a revision of the contract.

In previous years, Nestle's plan to build a bottling plant drew sharp opposition from Northern California environmentalists, seeking to defend what many say is the state's most pristine river.

The McCloud River, which wraps at the base of Mount Shasta, is unique in that it derives most of its water from springs rather than snowmelt or rainfall. Residents often tout the water as the purest in the state.

David Palais, Nestle's natural resource manager, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2006 that the company's best interests would also serve the community.

"We are planning to build a $128 million plant here," he was quoted as saying. "It is not in our best interests to threaten that investment by depleting the water source."

Nestle is the country's largest bottled water company, and also produces Poland Springs, the top-selling brand in the county.

Tara Lohan, an editor for the Web site, said Nestle's plan is just another attempt of major corporations buying up rural water sources.

"One of the biggest and most voracious of the water gobblers is Nestle," Lohan wrote in 2007, "which controls one-third of the U.S. market and sells 70 different brand names - such as Arrowhead, Calistoga, Deer Park, Perrier, Poland Spring and Ice Mountain - which it draws from 75 springs located all over the country."

In addition to concern over the contract, Brown said the environmental analysis fails to consider the global warming impacts of producing and transporting millions of gallons of water.

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