California wildfires blaze out of control as Gov. declares state of emergency.
Once again, blazing California wildfires signal the start of summer — this time in the foothills of central California. Reuters reports the out-of-control fires have reduced at least 150 homes to smoldering ruins and have caused damage to 75 more.
The so-called Erskine fire, which broke out on Thursday some 40 miles (64 km) northeast of Bakersfield in Kern County, has already claimed at least two lives, sent three firefighters to the hospital and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
Over 1,100 firefighters valiantly tried and failed to douse the flames, which had consumed 35,700 acres as of Saturday afternoon. Needless to say, Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.
For all the horrified folks watching the news who’ve never lived on the Left Coast, it’s hard to understand why these California wildfires get so out of control. For starters, the Golden State gets most of its rain (or snow) in the winter and none in the summer. Reuters also reminds us of California’s ongoing drought.
Crews were working in steep, rugged terrain, fighting flames that were fueled by hot, dry weather and brush, grass and chaparral left bone dry by California’s devastating five-year drought.
Although California got a bit more rain this past winter, it’s not enough to make up for the four parched years before it. In 2015 the drought got so bad, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered towns and cities across the entire state to cut back their water use by 25 percent. You’d think that would apply to everyone, but apparently Jerry Brown and the other folks in Sacramento forgot about Nestle’s water habit.
Amid California wildfires, Nestle keeps stealing its water.
While drought forces the people of California to conserve water, Nestle plunders 705 million gallons of water every year. And what do they do with it? They bottle it and sell it in stores for hefty profits. Last year Ian James from The Desert Sun found out Nestle pumps its water from the San Bernadino national forest and pays nothing for it!
How does Nestle — along with other companies who pump massive amounts of water from public sources — get away with this? Well, they had permits but Nestle’s expired back in 1988 along with hundreds of others. Unfortunately, the US Forest Service owns the land and has not gone through the process of re-evaluating and re-issuing these permits. Instead of leasing water rights — a public resource — for the benefit of We the People while making sure there’s enough for future generations, the US Forest Service has fallen down on the job.
It’s not clear whether this lapse is due to budget cuts and lack of resources, or whether public officials are in cahoots with Nestle. Either way, granting a huge, for-profit corporation the right to freely guzzle our water after years of drought — and massive budget cuts — is a disgrace.
Due to public outrage, Nestle set up a website that insists their permit is legal and that they’re “only” using .0008 percent of California’s water supply. Then again, what else would you expect from a company chaired by Peter Brabaeck-Letmathe. As you may recall, Nestle’s chair and former CEO once famously claimed that “access to water is not a public right.”
Thankfully, activists challenged Nestle’s blatant water theft and filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service back in October. The first hearing was held in Riverside on June 13. Michael O’Heaney from the Story of Stuff (which filed the lawsuit along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Courage Campaign Institute) told The Desert Sun:
“It’s not Nestle’s water. It’s our water. And the Forest Service is charged with ensuring that that resource is sustainably managed, and that wasn’t happening for the last 30 years. What we’ve asked the judge to do is to order the Forest Service to turn off the spigot on Nestle’s water withdrawal.”
Watch: Activists protest Nestle and sue the US Forest Service.
Featured photo with California wildfires: Public Domain 2007, Andrea Booher, FEMA Photo Library via Wikimedia Commons. Spilled water bottle added.