With a population of just 1400 people, the small town of McCloud in Siskyou County, Northern California was a peaceful place. Located in the shadow of Mt Shasta, residents and visitors can enjoy trout fishing, mountain climbing and skiing in and around the area. But in the last ten years an altogether more industrial issue has affected the area, leaving residents furious.
Nestle Water North America (NWNA) is a strand within the multinational corporation of Nestle – the world’s largest food and beverage producing company. Unsurprisingly, NWNA specialise in the production of bottled mineral waters and in 2003 they set their sights on the water rights of the Mccloud River, along with plans to create a proposed 1 million square foot bottling plant near to the town. Being experts in the spring water field, the NWNA could appreciate that the McCloud River is uniquely pure; most of the water comes from springs and underground lava aquifers which act as superb natural water filters and would therefore be a lucrative source for their bottled water.
Unbeknown to the residents of the town, the McCloud Watershed Council actually approved some of these plans by provisionally agreeing to let Nestle take 1250 gallons of spring water per minute. They also went a step further by allowing them to install groundwater production wells near to the site. But their agreement to these plans without consulting the town’s residents or even undertaking an environmental assessment did not go down well when, in 2006, the residents got wind of this underhand contract and promptly set about suing the water district and Nestle themselves.
It seems that residents were originally worried about the impact that extracting water from the river and building a plant would have on the river and its aquifers. Nestle had planned to drill into the aquifers to collect more water than the river provided but according to the Watershed experts, drilling too deeply into an aquifier and fracturing its surface can lead to the water being lost altogether. There were also concerns about the effects on the 200 species of wildlife in the river and the trout fishing business for which McCloud has become famous. It seemed that the Siskyou judge who heard the case agreed with these concerns when he ruled against Nestle and the water district in 2006.
Since then Nestle have paid to have an environmental assessment carried out and even reduced the scale of their plans to placate the town's residents. They agreed to reduce the size of the bottling plant from 1 million square feet to 35,000 square feet and also reduced the amount of water that they would take from the river. But the residents are still not appeased and clearly resent the underhand tactics in which the company tried to buy their town’s water without considering their opinions or asking for their consent. Governor of California, General Jerry Brown, has publicly expressed environmental concerns not just for the town of McCloud but in general – he argued that producing tens of thousands of plastic bottles and transporting them all over the country had severe environmental implications in itself.
Nestle have responded to these concerns by offering several ecological reports, assessments and studies to demonstrate that their plans will not have a detrimental effect to the river or the general environment in McCloud, but as yet the battle is still ongoing. Their argument regarding the potential employment benefits to the area is also considered dubious. A similar plant opened in Mecosta County, Michiganin 2002 and reports suggest that employees there are low paid and their contracts are temporary and insecure. This has left the residents of this county questioning their agreement to the bottle plant in their area; clearly McCloud do not want to go the same way.
The general, overall opinion seems to be that large corporations such as Nestle are only concerned by money and therefore mistreat their staff and condone unethical damage of the environment in favour of profit and interest rates. Bottled water is considered by many to be an unnecessary extravagance in the Western World – it spoils the environment and benefits only the large companies who make huge profits from this most natural of sources.