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Nestle plans to bottle desert water despite drought

File photo.

File photo.

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, June 30, 2016, 6:17 PM - Reports suggest Nestle is planning a $35 million plant to bottle water from the Arizona desert, amid drought conditions. According to AZ Central, the plant will aim to produce 264 million half-litre bottles of Pure Life water annually, employing between 40 and 50 workers at a currently unused warehouse.

While the operation will help provide jobs in the community environmentalists are angered with the company's decision, given the current climate.

Back in May college student Sabrina Reed started a change.org petition to protest the plant, calling the move "irresponsible and unsustainable", considering the state of Arizona has been in a drought since 1999. At the time of writing, the petition had garnered just over 44,000 signatures.

A Facebook page has also popped up, prompting the Phoenix water services department to hold a public meeting which took place earlier this month, Bloomberg reports.

Nestle to use only 0.037 per cent of total water volume

According to city officials Phoenix produced around 95 billion gallons of water last year, and about 2 per cent of that is ground water.

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The Nestle plant would use about 35 million gallons a year when it becomes operational in the spring, equating to 0.037 per cent of the total volume found in the city's plants and wells.

In spite of this, some locals remain skeptical.

Concerns over plastic waste

For some the concern isn't about the water but rather, the plastic being used to bottle it. While plastic is an integral part of modern society, there are legitimate arguments for wanting to curb its production and use.

For example: it's estimated that 1 billion tons of plastic have been discarded since the 1950s  and research suggests it will take up to 500 years for some forms to biodegrade. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only 8% of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 in the U.S. actually made it to recycling plants.

The other 92% was shuffled off to landfills or found its way into the water.

While city officials say the Nestle plant is sustainable and will create jobs, some worry the optics of bottling water amid a drought aren't good. (File photo)

Water a growing demand

Dave White, a sustainability professor at Arizona State University, told AZ Central if the water wasn't being used at a plant it would likely be diverted to a new subdivision, which could permanently increase demand. According to Nestle, the demand for water in the Phoenix area has increased by 10 per cent over the past year, on track with a nation-wide trend. 

This -- coupled with the job creation -- makes the plant beneficial for the community, White says, although he added the optics of the plan likely won't resonate with everyone.

"Does it send a message to residents that the city or the state is less serious than it should be about its water conservation?" he posed to AZ Central.

According to Bloomberg, the initiative has sparked a debate on how to continue to provide drinking water to Arizona residents, in spite of drought conditions.

Kathryn Sorenson, Phoenix Water Services Director, added there are a few factors that make the future especially uncertain, and warming temperature trends is one of them.

"We know climate change will have an impact on us," she said according to Bloomberg. "We don’t know how or to what extent, but we know it won’t be good."

Sources: Bloomberg | AZ Central


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