November 19th, 2007 by Shirley Siluk Gregory
Environmentalists already have good reason to despise bottled-water companies, but local economic development folks might now have reason to question the industry too. That’s the message from opponents of a proposed Nestle water-bottling facility in McCloud, California, a small community with natural springs fed by the glaciers of Mount Shasta.
McCloud’s defenders today released an economic study that casts a skeptical light on Nestle’s predictions that the plant would bring more local jobs and an improved local economy. Most of the promised jobs would probably be filled by people from outside the area, while others would be entry-level, low-paying positions. Furthermore, the report added, building a large water-bottling plant in a place known for its natural beauty could drive away some residents and businesses over time.
“The proposed facility threatens to consume one of the area’s most valuable assets: its water,” said Kristin Lee, an economist with the consulting firm ECONorthwest and one of the authors of the report.
ECONorthwest prepared the study on behalf of the McCloud Watershed Council, a volunteer-based residents’ organization working to preserve the quality of the region’s watershed. The group is fighting Nestle’s plan to build a one-million-square foot water-bottling plant in the former logging community, which has a population of about 1,200. If constructed, the McCloud facility’s size would make it the largest water-bottling plant in the U.S.
“It would be the largest building in Northern California,” said Brian Stranko, CEO of California Trout, a group that works to protect and restore wild trout populations in California waters. “You could fit every building in McCloud into it.”
The area’s environmentalists and local residents oppose the plant on many levels. They object to the McCloud Community Services District’s agreement to sell local water to Nestle at “far below” market value. They warn that Nestle’s contract would give the company control of local water supplies for 50, possibly even 100 years. They fear the facility’s impact on the environment, on downstream users of local water, on the region’s attractiveness for tourism and outdoor recreation. And, now, armed with the ECONorthwest report, they worry the plant won’t be as good a deal for the local economy as Nestle says.
That’s now the message they’re hoping to deliver to the McCloud Community Services District, which inked the original deal with Nestle and — they say — still retains the power to renegotiate the terms of its contract with the company.
“It’s not too late for the (district) to reconsider this contract,” said Sid Johnson, a member of the McCloud Watershed Council. “We’re not sure they’re aware of that.”
Nestle Waters is the world’s top seller of bottled water. As of 2006, it sold 72 different brands of bottled water — including San Pelligrino, Perrier, Aquarel, Ozarka, Zephyrhills and Deer Park — around the globe.
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