The people of Spring and Benner Townships have a difficult decision to make. Should the Nestle Corporation be allowed to build a bottling plant that would extract over 400,000 of gallons of water from the aquifer each day and sell it in single-use plastic bottles? The importance of this decision can’t be overstated. Given the public relations blitz the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County has put out there on Nestle’s behalf, I think we need to take a look behind the curtain.
According to Forbes, Nestle was worth just shy of $230 billion last year. They are among the world’s largest food and water companies. That monetary worth, though, has come at tremendous costs to communities across the United States.
On the arid Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation in Cabazon, California, Nestle has continued to pump water during a record-setting drought. The tribe has little to no data to track the actual impact of withdrawals and Nestle has not been forthcoming with agencies or the press. This small and poor tribe have little recourse.
Osceola Township, Michigan is a rural water-rich municipality with agricultural districts. Today, they are fighting tooth and nail to protect themselves. Nestle doesn’t seem interested though in working to create an appropriate place-based solution based on community needs. They’d rather be able to pump up to 400 gallons a minute come hell or high (or low) water. That’s over 500,000 gallons a day. Their fight against Nestle has garnered 240,000 signatures of support and $30,000 in donations to fight the case in court. There are plenty of other examples like this.
But some communities have been wise and said “No.” In 2016, the people of Hood River County, Oregon and Eldred Township, Pennsylvania stopped Nestle plants. Their communities value local and regional water resources, neighborliness, and corporate responsibility. They’ve taken the warning from other communities to heart, people like the Morongo Band’s general manager, Calvin Louie. He said that Nestle’s Arrowhead brand “has a reputation of going into small communities and taking advantage—and basically pump[ing] them dry and good to the last drop.”
The Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County says that the Nestle plant would provide jobs. There would be 50 jobs at the plant, just over 80 associated jobs in trucking and supporting industry, and the 100 or so construction jobs for the plant itself. There will be tax revenue. These aren’t insignificant. But they aren’t the only numbers that matter.
If I understand correctly, Nestle would be a rate-paying customer of the Spring Township Water Authority. In 2018, Nestle would pay $4.75 per thousand gallons of water. The roughly $2000 they’d pay per day for 432,000 gallons would result in about $2.3 million in sales per day sold as cases and nearly $5 million in sales sold as individual bottles. That’s a mark-up of 1000 to 2500 times the price of withdrawal. The company will claim that there are supply chain, labor, material, energy, and other costs to them that don’t make that end sale pure profit. But the private gain to Nestle’s shareholders is huge while the local water authority, the townships, and our exceptional quality trout fishery will get nothing.
If history is the future and push comes to shove from a drought, Nestle will maintain or increase production and keep withdrawing no matter what the local community pleads with them to do. Their straw will be the biggest. Backed by billions of dollars and an army of lawyers, people will be forced into relying on bottled water, or drilling ever more wells. Would Nestle try to get another straw in there too as they have in Fryeburg, Maine? They’ve made agreements and then violate them. Nice how that works isn’t it?
In the last two weeks, the people of Snowshoe faced a critical water shortage. Their water authority faced some major challenges that were made worse by the deep freeze. Nestle played knight in shining armor by donating 1600 cases of water. This is a classic use of a crisis as an opportunity. They are literally waiting around for crises like this where a community’s public water source becomes stressed so that they can reach into look like saviors. The reality is that companies like Nestle, Veolia, and others want local water authorities to fail so that they can increase their market share and control more water. It’s a vicious cycle.
Nestle’s CEO, Nestle Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, has said there’s no human or public right to water. That’s false. In 2010, the “United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights.” Not only that, our Commonwealth’s Constitution states that “the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain [natural resources] for the benefit of all the people.” As water scarcity and drought intensity increase in Pennsylvania and across the world from human-caused climate change conditions, the increased privatization of water is a bad move.
Luckily, technicians from the State College Borough Water Authority are helping the folks at Mountaintop. With technical assistance, planning, and good investment, these kinds of crises can be prevented and making Nestle…well…practically irrelevant.
Nestle doesn’t care about our water, our rights, or this community. Why let them in?