Hydrogeologist and spokesperson for Nestlé Waters North America, Eric Andreus, announced at a monthly township meeting in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, last week that Nestlé had given up on its plans to pump 73 million gallons of water per year from the town’s local aquifer.
Truth-out depicted the scene of the announcement: “The room erupted in cheers and for the first time since Nestlé began meeting with community members about the project, the company received a standing ovation.”
The small town of Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, has been the latest community to be a target of Nestlé’s efforts to privatize community waters by pumping it out of private land. The company had planned to pump 200,000 gallons of water per day for up to 25 years, totaling 1.8 billion gallons of water being taken from the community. Similar projects in the past have resulted in massive environmental damage.
The community has been organizing against Nestlé since they learned of these plans in 2012. The billion dollar corporation normally just steamrolls past local opposition, but this time, in a one-page statement, the corporation cited the community’s concerns as one of its main reasons for pulling out.
Donna Diehl, a local school bus driver and community organizer, said she suspected that the lawsuit she and other organizers filed against Nestlé last December was the main factor in Nestlé’s decision. The lawsuit accused Nestlé of secretly and illegally changing the area’s zoning rules.
“Personally, I think their application was so, so flawed that they honestly thought the ‘sleepy dwellers’ of Kunkletown wouldn’t pick up on it, that we wouldn’t research their application,” Diehl said. “They finally realized that they can’t go any farther or they’d be completely exposed.”
Town opposition to Nestlé had been so fierce that Eldred Township meetings had to be moved from the municipal building to the larger firehouse in order to be able to fit the large number of people who had started to attend meetings.
“People are very involved now in our township,” Diehl said. “I think you are going to see people staying on top of things. You go to a meeting once a month and find out what is happening in your town. The ‘sleepy dwellers of Kunkletown,’ as some people in the beginning called us, are now very vigilant. I know I have made lifetime friends now.”
Stiv Wilson, director of campaigns for the Story of Stuff Project, a worldwide environmental organization that has been fighting Nestlé and similar corrupt companies since 2007, saw Kunkletown as a proof of concept for water rights activists.”This demonstrates that public pressure on Nestlé works.”
“It also shows that communities that know that there is an organized movement that has their back can prevail,” he continued. “We are making sure that Nestlé is less and less able to operate in an un-transparent manner.”
John Stewart, deputy campaign director for Corporate Accountability International, echoed these sentiments. “We are seeing an increasing consciousness that water is a scarce resource and needs to be defended. We will do what we do until as a movement we can show them that we draw the line at water. This shouldn’t be something a corporation can profit off of. The momentum is with us.”
Nathan Wellman is a Los Angeles-based journalist, author, and playwright. Follow him on Twitter: @LightningWOW