Bottled water and drought

I know Nestle is well-known in relation to the drought in California, because Nestle has at least one bottled water plant in CA. They aren’t the only bottled water/beverage company operation in California, however; Crystal Geyser is looking to open one in Mount Shasta later this year, drawing from groundwater.

Lacking a cohesive statewide groundwater policy, California is wide open for multinational corporations to legally obtain water rights to the groundwater on their privately owned properties. And, they are not inclined to be particularly considerate neighbors.

Let’s look at an example that is currently unfolding in Mount Shasta, California. Mount Shasta has historically supplied water to many Central and Southern California communities. Its abundant snowpack has made it a natural reservoir providing steady, slow release of water throughout the hot summer months. Mount Shasta, however, has not had significant snow for the past two years (so little, in fact, that the ski parks in the area have not even been able to open and operate for more than a few days).

Nonetheless, Crystal Geyser Water Company has announced plans to start bottling sparkling mineral water this Fall, adding other drinks later. And, due to the lack of a groundwater regulatory system, there nothing in place that can tell Crystal Geyser how much they can pump. Adding to the state’s insufficient regulatory policies on groundwater management, a section of Siskiyou County’s groundwater ordinance (dating to 1998) requires a permit for the extraction of groundwater to be transported outside the area, but there is an exemption for bottled water (yes, you read that correctly!) The city of Mount Shasta’s regulations include a similar exemption.

Another article specifically about Crystal Geyser gets into more details about that plant and local conditions – like how this bottling plant used to be a mill, which used a lot more water than the bottling plant will, and how (of course) the reopening of a large industry will offer more jobs to the community. A lot of local people do have serious concerns about the impact of the bottling plant – and the residents are now having to have water meters installed, because they have to monitor and limit their use, while the company will have no restrictions on it.

Meanwhile, a city effort to launch an environmental impact report on the plant evaporated after a grant that it was linked to fell through.

“We’re trying to make the best of a situation where we lost our legal leverage,” said City Councilman Jeffrey Collings, who supports the plant but would like to see it fully vetted.

The company claims it is a sustainable source of water, because they monitored it for a year. . . Given how long droughts can last, and how climate patterns can vary a lot over many years (even without global warming), a year seems insufficient to really be certain. And even when the new groundwater regulations go into place several years from now, it will not affect Mount Shasta:

A new state law that calls for local regulation of groundwater basins in the coming years will not compel action here. State water officials call it not a basin but a “source area” of low priority.

This seems remarkably short-sighted; I would be curious to know what information went into that decision.

Chris Hogan, spokesman for the Virginia-based International Bottled Water Assn., said dislike of the industry is driven by emotion, not fact. Industry research shows that it takes 1.32 liters of water to produce a liter of bottled water, a low ratio in the beverage industry. In California, he said, bottlers use just .02% of the state water supply. (Crystal Geyser said it uses just .00016%.)

This is so typical. Focusing on a tiny, narrow set of facts to avoid the bigger picture.

Okay, so the water bottling plants are taking a tiny percentage of the state’s total available water.

But what about their immediate impact in the local communities? What about the facts there? As put by rjzimmerman here, “. . . study your use in each basin. I am totally convinced that poking your straws into the earth on the edge of the desert is depleting the watershed surrounding that straw significantly.”

What about the facts that bottled water also requires use of a nonrenewable resource (petroleum) both to create the bottles (only a small percentage of which will ever get recycled) and to move the bottles ALL OVER THE DAMN PLACE, adding to the carbon dioxide pollution and contributing, in some way (probably “small” compared to other uses), to global warming and the drought conditions?

What about the facts that in most parts of the US, the tap water is safe to drink? And there are public water fountains all over? And zillions of companies getting in on the “everyone needs to carry a water bottle at all times” thing, providing many stylish and inexpensive options for carting around your very own water without requiring a disposable container?

I spent a year living in a city in Texas where the tap water was pretty much undrinkable. It was safe, it just tasted terrible. So we’d refill jugs at the supermarket, where you could get reverse osmosis water. I won’t say “no one should ever buy or use bottled water” but I do think it is being overhyped and oversold as a “necessity” when in so many places it simply is not. (I think I also read some older information about how producing more bottled water was an intentional decision by the bottled beverage companies/industries because they were concerned they’d lose sales due to people becoming more health conscious and reducing their purchases of soda and stuff, but I don’t have the info handy.)

Another problem with California’s water comes from fracking, which uses a lot of water, and then stuffs it – full of pollutants – back into what ought to be clean sources.

. . . two environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday demanding that the state stop allowing oil industry wastewater to be injected into protected, clean aquifers.

In response to an investigation showing the California Department of Conservation has been allowing oil companies to inject waste into clean water sources for years, the department, named in the suit, only issued a “emergency rulemaking action” that allows the wastewater injections to continue until 2017.

Going back to the Crystal Geyser situation, another fact the companies probably don’t want people talking about are the impacts the local people must literally pay for in order to have the bottling plant in place:

. . . the Mount Shasta City Council will be accepting $3 million from Crystal Geyser to connect to their wastewater treatment facility. The wastewater treatment plant must comply with state mandated upgrades amounting to $16.5 million partially in order to accommodate the new bottling plant. Additionally the ratepayers may be charged for the upgrade of the 7400 feet of Interceptor Line from the Crystal Geyser plant to the treatment plant–which, essentially, amounts to corporate welfare.

The article this quote comes from describes the situation as an example of

“inverted totalitarianism,” a system where corporations have corrupted and subverted democracy and where economics trumps politics. . .

Further, in inverted totalitarianism, every natural resource and every living being is commodified and exploited to collapse as the citizenry is lulled and manipulated into surrendering their liberties and their participation in government through excess consumerism and sensationalism.

Again, our example is borne out as the corporate entity has convinced the local people that they will offer jobs and, thus, stimulate the local economy. (It should be noted that Crystal Geyser’s hiring policies do not bring many new jobs into an area. The better jobs are traditionally filled by people that the corporation moves in from other plants, while the line jobs are, historically, temporary part-time positions with low wages and no benefits.)

An inverted totalitarian position is in direct opposition to the ecological principles that have, in previous years, been part and parcel of the very fabric of California.

I don’t know why there’s a need to use to use the phrase “inverted totalitarianism” when “capitalism in its natural form” would do just fine.

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About Fjothr Lokakvan

More or less Northern Tradition polytheist.
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