California Burning: cheeseburgers, almonds, and massive profits created perfect drought conditions for wildfires

Karen Madej

A Swiss-owned conglomerate has piped water from San Bernadino Forest to land outside of the forest border illegally since 1988. They’ve taken between 50 and 150 million gallons per year and pay the forest service $2,100 per year for forest land use. This does not include water rights. Nestlé Waters stole water from the forest. The catastrophic results of drought, wildfires, and loss of homes and lives play out annually. Nestlé Waters and BlueTriton’s profit over people approach must be stopped.

Paying next to nothing in royalties, Nestlé makes billions of dollars a year selling our water. In communities across North America, the pattern repeats itself: Nestlé enters a local town making promises of local job opportunities and the highest sustainability and environmental standards to its water bottling operations. Over time the surrounding communities see a trail of broken promises, environmental degradation and a struggle to regain access to their dwindling water supplies. Story of Stuff

Water thieves and liars chasing their rewards while trees die-off from drought and two types of parasites taking advantage of their weakened state. UC Berkeley Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management adjunct professor Matteo Garbelotto says about the two parasitic fungi:

“They both start as endophytes (microorganisms), living inside trees without any obvious effect on tree health,” the study found, “then often become pathogens — some relatively aggressive — in conjunction with the onset of predisposing stress factors (drought, heat stress, fewer foggy days, competition due to high stand density) and then survive as saprobes on the wood of the dead trees.”

Endophytes, like truffles or mushrooms, feed and feed off of their living host, trees. Saprobes are the same fungus but act as decomposers that feed on dead wood. Wildfires adore dry and dead wood because it fuels their travel through forests and even across the Sierra Nevadas.

Wildfires mean more carbon in the atmosphere and less oxygen. No trees = no humans. Nestlé was, and now BlueTriton could literally drain California and other states dry.

How clever of Nestle to sell off their US water-guzzling subsidiaries and pass on their illegal rights to steal excessive amounts of groundwater to two private companies (One Rock Capital Partners [and] Metropoulos).

BlueTriton will likely get away with more Californian water because a private company is not required to disclose financial information to the public unless the state of California stops them.

What else uses groundwater?

Nestlé Waters North America Inc’s bottled water is not the main cause of the water crisis. Nor is watering lawns or filling pools — because residential Californians conserve water and have done so since the 25% reduction demanded by the gubernatorial emergency action in 2015. That, however, was not enough. State data for 2016 says:

Water used for agriculture accounted for well over 80% of California’s water use. San Francisco Chronicle

Surface water supplies, previously used by farmers, were diverted to support endangered fish habitats. So, San Joaquin Valley farmers started pumping more groundwater from their wells. The situation worsened when unirrigated areas also lacking surface water needed groundwater to establish new orchards.

High returns on orchard crops have made it profitable for farmers to invest in deeper wells, aggravating groundwater depletion. Groundwater quality is also falling in many areas, threatening crop yields and drinking water. California’s Water: Water for Farms April 2015

California Agricultural Statistics Review 2019–2020

  • Output more than $50 billion in cash receipts, slightly higher than the previous year’s output.
  • Exports totaled approximately $21.7 billion, a 3.4 percent increase from 2018’s exports.
  • In total, the state produced 15.8 million tons of fruits and nuts in 2019. The state’s total value of all fruits and nuts in 2019 was nearly $21.5 billion.
  • The annual growth rate for the last 10 years for California’s agricultural exports averaged 6.0 percent.

Californian farmers are profiting from their catastrophic use of groundwater. If they abide by the rules after this year’s harvest, apparently they won’t have any crops next year, so problem solved.

In fact, according to Marketplace, some farmers have already changed their crops. Stuart Woolf chose to grind up his 400 acres of water-hungry young almond trees and save himself $1 million in water charges. Also, mixing the grinds into the soil will qualify for carbon credits.

Veenstra from the Almond Board said.

"How can we do this in the most responsible way and the most precise way, but then also help to address some of these bigger issues with regard to water supply, and climate change overall."

Other farmers choose to plant and take their chances with climate change.

“Mother Nature and climate change have brought us the situation that we have. And therefore the decisions that you have to make have very real impacts on people. But not making these decisions would have even more horrendous impacts for people,” Karen Ross, Cal Matters

Dairy and beef facts

Each day, humans worldwide drink an estimated 5.2 billion gallons of water. Cows drink roughly eight and a half times that amount in a day — 45 billion gallons. PETA
  • It takes up to 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef. That’s more than 50 bathtubs full of water.
  • You save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you do by not showering for six months.

You can get your digital vegan starter kit here.

What’s next?

Nestle was, and now BluTriton will continue to create processed foods and bottled water using extreme excesses of water while under drought conditions. For their bottom lines. For the moment, though, according to FoodNavigator USA, they will comply with the cease and desist order issued in April 2021 by California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to cease ‘unauthorized’ water extractions from the San Bernardino National Forest.

“Dean Metropoulos, Blue Triton’s interim CEO, has an opportunity to live up to his recent commitments to environmental sustainability and community well-being by ending the Arrowhead operations in the San Bernardino National Forest. What better way to turn the page on Nestlé’s well-earned negative reputation than by conceding this is the end of the proverbial pipeline.” Michael O’Heaney, Story of Stuff Project Executive Director

Join Story of Stuff in their action against Nestle here.

Unbottle Water Water is a human right. We, humans, animals and our environment, all need it to survive, yet corporations increasingly seek to privatize and profit from it. We’re working to ensure that water is public, safe, and accessible to all.

Farmers will adapt and survive or go under without enough water for their crops.

Our landscapes need increased management now to secure a fire resilient future for ALL Californians

CalResilient also needs your help to keep wildfires to a minimum.

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Passionate about climate change and living a debt-free, sustainable life. Determined to learn how to and build an adobe house or Earthship. The goal is to live off-grid and off the land. Energy for heat and to power electrical devices and appliances will use solar, wind, and hydro-powered electricity. No trees will die to make my home.

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