The Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water plant, owned by Nestlé and located in Western California, has become a source of intense controversy during California's severe drought.

 

The water plant, located on a tract of land owned by the Morongo Tribe west of Palm Springs, has been siphoning water from a spring located in Millard Canyon for more than ten years. But during the current extreme shortage of water, local residents are beginning to wonder whether it is ethical to take water from a desert region and sell it for profit all over the nation.

Linda Ivey, from the nearby city Palm Desert, is one of the many residents who have complained. In a recent interview, Ivey is quoted as saying, "Why is it possible to take water from a drought area, bottle it and sell it? We've got to protect what little water supply we have."

The Morongo tribe has had several conflicts in recent years with the local water district over the bottling operation. The tribe has also long been attempting to prevent state officials from revoking their license for a portion of the water rights. Even with these disputes, however, the tribe was able to settle a deal with the largest bottled water company in the United States, Nestlé Waters North America Inc. Nestlé leases land from the tribe for their Arrowhead Water plant.

Both the Morongo tribe and Nestlé declined to comment about how much water is bottled at the facility each year.

Local residents may be upset, but there is not much that the state government, or even the federal government, can do. As a sovereign nation, the Morongo Indians are free from oversight by state water agencies and are exempt from reporting on groundwater pumping or well levels.

In previous years, Nestlé issued annual reports on the amounts of water being pumped from the spring, but those reports stopped being issued in 2009. Since that time, the local water agencies can only estimate how much water is actually being pumped from the canyon and shipped around the world every year. Recently, the Morongo tribe reported to the state of California that about 200 million gallons—more than enough water for 400 typical homes—was removed from Millard Canyon in 2013.

Recently, within the last several years, water researcher Peter Gleick was allowed to visit Millard Canyon. What he saw was a bottling plant longer than seven football fields, looming smugly over a small stream that flowed innocently among the surrounding cottonwood trees.

Before the plant opened, the water from the spring in Millard Canyon was used for local drinking water. But after the Cabazon Water District sold the spring water rights to the Morongo tribe in the early 2000's, things changed. Shortly after the sale, the tribe announced a 25-year deal they had made with Nestlé to produce Arrowhead water.

Calvin Louie, the general manager of the Cabazon Water District, has mixed feelings about the project. "Arrowhead provides a lot of jobs, and that helps the economy. On the other hand, Arrowhead has a reputation of going into small communities and taking advantage—and basically, pump them good and dry to the last drop."

Bottled water is bad for the environment all around. Besides harming the communities the water is harvested from, bottled water is harmful to the nation at large and the environment. Just two examples of this are below:

Nearly 1, 500,000 tons of plastic bottles discarded every year—nearly twice the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a large region of plastic refuse in the Pacific Ocean that is conservatively estimated to be about twice the size of Texas. Discarded plastic waste is caught in an ocean vortex and drawn into this region.

Charlie Teschner started MESA Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling in 1982. Charlie has a journeyman and master plumber’s license. He was raised with a strong work ethic and he now applies those values to tasks such as plumbing repair in Longmont.