Nestlé called out for bottling, selling California water during drought

April 2, 2015

A Nestle logo is pictured on a van outside the company headquarters in Vevey

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Nestlé is wading into what may be the purest form of water risk. A unit of the $243 billion Swiss food and drinks giant is facing populist protests for bottling and selling perfectly good water in Canada and drought-stricken California.

Nestlé Waters says it does nothing harmful in the watersheds where it operates. Its parent company also signed and strongly supports the United Nations-sponsored CEO Water Mandate, which develops corporate sustainability policies.

The company is under fire in British Columbia, though, for paying only $2.25 for every million liters of water it withdraws from local sources. Yet the provincial government sets the price and until this year charged nothing. The rates are also far higher in Quebec, which charges $70, and Nova Scotia, where the price is $140. Nonetheless, 132,000 people have signed an online petition demanding the government stop allowing Nestlé to take water on the cheap.

The company’s reputation may be at even greater risk in California, whose severe drought is in its fourth year. The Courage Campaign has organized an online petition, with more than 40,000 signatures so far, that demands Nestlé Waters stop bottling H2O during the drought. There are several local protests, too.

The Swiss firm drew 50 million gallons from Sacramento sources last year, less than half a percent of the Sacramento Suburban Water District’s total production. That’s hardly draining aquifers and rivers dry, but during a severe drought any use of water to turn a profit risks being perceived as out of touch.

Consumers can only blame themselves, of course, for buying so much bottled water. The average price for a gallon is $1.21, according to the International Bottled Water Association. For just $1.60, Californians could purchase 1,000 gallons of tap water, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

Moreover, Nestlé’s water business is its smallest and least profitable, generating a trading operating profit last year of 10.3 percent – less than half that of its powdered and liquid beverages unit. With California imposing a 25 percent cut on residential water use, Nestlé Waters may want to consider turning off its own taps.

This item was corrected on April 10 to remove erroneous comparisons in paragraph 5 relating to the significance versus other water uses of the 50 million gallons that Nestlé Waters bottles in the Sacramento area, and reworded to connect the narrative to the following paragraph.

12 comments

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Let’s blame Nestle for the climate change, and more importatnly, for the reckless exploitation of natural resources of California.

Posted by Levko | Report as abusive

why isn’t there a link to any petitions linked on this article?

also, why is the tone of this article so dismissive? California is in the midst of an historic drought, for Nestle to be selling its water during this may be perfectly legal but is in completely bad taste! Shame on you nestle!

Posted by CWB55 | Report as abusive

Writer seems rather apologist. Actually, the article is practically a whitewash of the issue.

“Populist protests.” How about protests plain and simple?

“Consumers only have themselves to blame.” Same could be said of people who got cancer from smoking cigarettes.

“May be bottling more water than people drink out of taps.” Gross.

“Operating profit on water only 10.3%.” Gee, that’s only $700,000,000 annual profit. Hardly worth their time, I suppose.

Bottled water should be taxed like cigarettes rather than benefiting from government give-away.

Posted by joecollinge | Report as abusive

What brand names is Nestle selling this water under?

Posted by diegueno | Report as abusive

Leave people alone! If they want to buy bottle water that is their business! I have a compromised immune system. I don’t drink tap or filtered water from the faucet. Nestle delivers enough drinking water for us for a month.

Posted by Artist51 | Report as abusive

Tale of two cities

Las Vegas recycle 98% of water. In spite of being located on te lowest rainfall region in the whole of USA, despite having a growing population of natives and visitors, and a growing demand for water. Las Vegas is in an enviable position to show America and the rest of the world a model of good water management practices.

In Singapore we develop RO system, desalination plants to push for a self-reliant vision of water usage. Water is the planet’s most important resources. We ought to be committed to being consumers whom are more self-enlightened.

Posted by Andrew2381 | Report as abusive

The time is rapidly approaching whereby the politicians will realize the people do not exist for the benefit of business rather business exists for the benefit of the people.

Posted by ehross | Report as abusive

WTF is not sufficient.

Posted by myeke | Report as abusive

“The Swiss firm drew 50 million gallons from Sacramento sources last year.”

There is no way that amount accounts for 12% of residential water usage, unless there are only about 14,000 people living in the area. The average person, on the low end, uses 80 gallons of water per day – over 29,000 gallons a year. That means that 1,700 people use about 50 million gallons a year. The Sacramento area has over two million residents resulting in a total use of at least 58 *billion* gallons per year. That means Nestle’s draw is less than 1% percent compared to residential usage.

Compare that to the water footprint of many other products, Nestle is probably making the best use of this resource:

One cup of tea: 7.93 gallons
One slice of bread: 10.57 gallons
One apple: 18.49 gallons
One glass of beer: 19.81 gallons
One glass of wine: 31.70 gallons
One cup of coffee: 36.98 gallons
One glass of milk: 52.83 gallons
One liter of wine: 253.61 gallons
One hamburger: 634.01 gallons

Posted by cosmicdog | Report as abusive

Let’s not forget that Nestle said that water is NOT a human right.

Posted by BrownCoatVoter | Report as abusive

Petition from Moveon:

http://petitions.moveon.org/couragecampa ign/sign/demand-nestle-immediately

Posted by SFProgressive | Report as abusive

Who are we kidding here? Nestle’ has these bottling plants all across the United States and has bought rights up in many other countries. They have successfully fought off any and all lawsuits from state, local, and private entities. They have bought off foreign governments, and bought up existing bottling companies. It seems that they cannot be stopped. Watch the documentary “Flow”. It might get you to rethink your position on water rights.

Posted by charlesjarret | Report as abusive