As reported in Sacramento Press yesterday, the City of Sacramento issued a stop-work order on construction of a Nestlé water-bottling plant in Sacramento, and at a 6pm meeting tonight the City Council will consider “amending the city’s zoning code to immediately require special permits for beverage bottling plants.”
The stop-work order is based on questions of whether or not Nestlé filled out the appropriate paperwork to build the plant, and Brendan O’Rourke, who works for Nestlé, says they did. The larger issue being asked by City Councilman Kevin McCarty and the advocacy group Save Our Water Sacramento is whether Nestlé should be allowed to bottle water in Sacramento at all (full disclosure: I am friends with some of the members of Save Our Water Sacramento). While some of the water will be shipped in from nearby springs, the majority of the water Nestlé wants to bottle, an estimated 81 million a year according to an article by McCarty in Sacramento Press, will be taken directly from Sacramento’s municipal water supply, despite California being in its third year of drought. This water will then be resold to Californians (to avoid regulation by the FDA) at a profit of 10,000%!
Certainly, Sacramento has already made money off of the proposed plant; Nestlé says they’ve already paid “‘$3.7 million [. . .] in [the] form of permitting fees, construction costs, due diligence payments and [other associated] costs [. . .],’” and Mayor Kevin Johnson was quoted in another Sacramento Press article as saying the new plant could create “’40 to 60′” jobs. But do the costs outweigh the benefits? 40 to 60 jobs is certainly not a lot, and any money Sacramento has made so far will pale in comparison to what Nestlé will make reselling tap water. Last week Save Our Water Sacramento hosted a special screening of the as-yet-unreleased documentary Tapped at The Crest. The film is pretty horrifying, detailing the problems with the bottled water industry: besides those already discussed, citizens in a city with a Nestlé water-bottling plant in Maine were cut off from their water supply for two days while the plant’s supply kept going; bottled water faces far less stringent safety requirements than bottled water and has been found by various studies to be contaminated; people who live near plants that create the plastic bottles for bottled water have a higher risk of getting cancer; and of course, water bottles that are not recycled often end up in the ocean, forming islands of plastic trash larger than Texas that are killing wildlife and affecting the food chain.
However, there are already two water-bottling plants in Sacramento, according to yet another Sacramento Press article (boy, they are on this issue!). And the best way to stop bottled water might be to simply stop drinking it. While I’m definitely a bleeding-heart liberal, I’ve drank my fair share of bottled water over the years (Tapped slackened my thirst for the stuff, however). A comment left on one of the Sacramento Press articles called local opponents of the Nestlé plant “NIMBYs,” an acronym that stands for “Not In My BackYard” and refers to people who enjoy the use of certain products or processes, such as nuclear power, but whom nevertheless refuse to let the uglier aspects of the product or processes, such as nuclear waste, come anywhere near their backyard. Those uglier aspects then end up in parts of the country or world where people are too poor to keep them out.
In any case, whether you oppose or support the Nestlé plant, your voice can be heard tonight if you show up at the City Council meeting, and that’s what democracy is all about!