The Nestle Corporation has come under fire recently for bottling and selling water during one of the most severe droughts in Western North American history. Here’s the kicker, though: what they’re doing is perfectly legal.

As many of you are no doubt aware, California has been dealing with a serious drought problem lately. And by lately, I mean four straight years now. It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that Governor Jerry Brown just recently imposed water rationing for the first time in the state’s history, including a 25% cut on residential water use.* Nestle, meanwhile, has been operating as if things were business as usual, last year drawing 50 million gallons from Sacramento sources alone, via Reuters. While that’s less than half a percent of the total production of the Sacramento Suburban Water District, it would also constitute 12% of the district’s total residential water usage. Numerous protests to the Sacramento area and an online petition with 40,000 signatures have sprung up in response.

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A lot of this entire discussion probably comes down to whether you believe water should be a fundamental human right, or whether you are wrong. Again, Nestle isn’t doing anything illegal. That’s actually the problem: what Nestle is doing is perfectly legal. We really shouldn’t get mad at Nestle for this; after all, you don’t get mad when a puppy craps on the rug, because such is its nature. By the same token, since corporations are sociopaths, it’s unfair to act surprised when they engage in sociopathic behavior. No, who we should really be mad at is the system that allows them to get away with things like this, one ostensibly comprised of human beings who know better.

Look at British Columbia (where experts have warned the drought might come next) for evidence of this. Canadian provincial governments set the price for companies like Nestle to draw water. In Quebec, for example, the rate is $70 per millon liters drawn. In Nova Scotia, it’s $140. In British Columbia, it’s $2.25. That isn’t a typo. Water is a vital, valuable, and increasingly rare resource, and our governments are selling us out on it. Nestle claims it’s doing nothing harmful in its watersheds, and that’s technically true—other than the fact that they’re drawing the water to be used for private commercial gain during a severe drought, which sounds pretty harmful to me.

It’s not just our governments, either; we’re just as much to blame. Part of the issue is that we’re still buying bottled water, because we’ve somehow been convinced it’s better than tap water. Bottled water costs nearly 1000 times more than tap water, and yet studies have shown it’s not in any way safer or better than what comes out of a faucet. When one takes a step back, it’s pretty obvious bottled water has always been a scam, but it’s become such a pervasive one that few, beyond stand-up comics mining it for material, question it any more. I’m just as guilty as anyone here: despite frequently commenting on how ridiculous the entire concept of bottled water is, I’ve definitely bought bottled water at rest stops and not really thought twice about it.

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Bottled water isn’t even a particularly profitable industry for Nestle: according to that same Reuters report, Nestle’s operating profit from bottled water is less than half that of its powdered and liquid drinks units. One has to wonder why, in the face of a mounting public outcry, they don’t just temporarily put their operations on hold. Even sociopaths generally understand the concept of public relations.

* Similar water rationing plans were proposed in the 1970’s in the midst of another severe drought, but were never implemented.

Image via ericlefrancais/Shutterstock.


Contact the author at WilyUbertrout@gmail.com.