The average North American uses 100 gallons of water per day. It is practically impossible in today’s society to avoid using excessive amounts of water; behind each purchase you make there is a hidden cost, such as the 650 gallons of water required to produce a generic cotton t-shirt, or the 139 gallons to make a single 16-ounce cup of coffee (source). The production of water bottles uses 17 million barrels of oil and 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, and it takes three times the amount of water to make the bottle as it does to fill it (source). Bottled water sales continue to rise, despite the fact that production is terrible for the environment and North Americans can get the same quality of water for free from their taps (read more about this scam here). In 2014, Americans purchased $18.82 billion worth of bottled water and in 2015 sales increased by 7.9%. As we approach a global water crisis, which is inevitable as the population rises, more bottled water companies are upping their production. It seems that corporations are viewing this as an investment opportunity rather than a global issue. Then, as fresh water becomes scarcer or we hit ‘peak water,’ bottled water companies will be able to put a premium on water as demand rises.
How Nestlé is monopolizing the bottled water industry
Nestlé has been increasing its acquisitions of water plants and upping its production of bottled water all over North America. The corporate giant extracts water from 50 springs throughout the United States. This has caused an increase in the amount of wild fires and droughts all over the nation. On top of this, Nestlé is doing so at an incredibly cheap cost. Nestlé extracts millions of litres of water per day from plants all over North America, some of which hit that daily target on their own. Not long ago, the former CEO of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck, stated rather clearly in an interview for a documentary called We Feed The World, that he believes water should not be a public right and that it should be something only the wealthy have access to. In 2007, Brabeck received a Black Planet Award, which is an award given to people who contribute to the destruction of the planet. Brabeck, through Nestlé, was accused of proliferating contaminated baby food, monopolizing water resources, and tolerating child labour. You can read more about that story in an article we wrote about it a few years ago, here.
How Oregon stopped Nestlé from practically stealing their water
Earlier this year, Nestlé planned to build another water bottling plant in Hood River County, 45 miles east of Portland, in hopes of extracting over 118 million gallons annually from Oxbow spring. Oregon is well-known for their progressive views, so many citizens inevitably protested against the $50 million project. Residents were concerned about water scarcity and how Nestlé’s operations would impact local farmers, fish, and Indigenous people. When citizens originally started opposing the project in 2015, the county was enduring extreme drought and water restrictions, which had a detrimental impact on the agricultural industry, the county’s main economic driver. Snowpack conditions in Oregon averaged less than 7% of normal levels that year, and state-wide average precipitation was less than 87% of normal conditions.
Because of the attention Nestlé was getting from locals, the company changed its tactics from requesting a gallon-for-gallon trade between the state and Cascade Locks city government, which would then sell the water to Nestlé, to pushing for the state to trade its legal right to some of the Oxbow water. Community members felt their questions were left unanswered and that they weren’t being heard by Nestlé or local and state leaders, so they resorted to calling a vote.
The opponents’ 14-55 campaign was entirely run by volunteers, whereas supporters of the project hired Rebecca Tweed, an infamous Portland political consultant and lobbyist, and received a generous donation of $105,000 from Nestlé. The company attempted to hide this contribution and was suspected of breaking Oregon’s campaign finance laws.
In the end, fancy flyers weren’t enough to sway the opposition. By the time they reached their mailbox, volunteers had already knocked on every door convincing voters not to support Nestlé’s proposed water bottling plant. In a small community with only approximately 12,300 registered voters, there were 8,235 ballots cast for 14-55, and 5,524 of those were against Nestlé. Not only did they stop Nestlé from privatizing their water, but they fuelled a movement to gain more awareness about the water crisis as news outlets from all over the world covered this small town’s story as well (source).
Nestlé is pushing for water privatization
We’ve seen a similar situation pan out in British Columbia, whereby Nestlé was draining water at a cheap cost while a drought and wildfires ravaged the province. Nestlé recently proposed a 10-year extension to keep sucking the groundwater from Aberfoyle, Ontario for only $3.71 per million litres. In the last 4 years alone, Nestlé has depleted 33% of the water from the Aberfoyle well and the water level has dropped 1.5 metres. Now, Nestlé wants to renew its license to extract 3.6 million litres of water per day from this site alone. This is only one of the many examples of how Nestlé is gunning for water privatization all over North America. Nestlé has been sued multiple times for its acquisitions of private water reserves in Michigan, simply for the sheer volume of water it takes (read our article about it here). Corporations like this are allowed to take unethical actions without any resistance from government because corporations control and dictate government policy.
This story begs the question: is it morally incorrect for corporations to make a profit on water when it is a basic human need? I think everyone should have access to clean water, but I’ve learned that profitability often trumps humanity in the corporate world. However, the situation that took place in Oregon should be viewed as a valuable lesson: we, as human beings, can fuel positive change. Together, we can prevent the global water crisis from worsening.