The overexploitation of ground water in the South Western Vosges by Nestlé Waters and the Ermitage cheese dairy

An environmental disaster and obvious conflicts of interest implicating Nestlé

These two agribusinesses, which use 50% of water resources, have been responsible for at least 30 years of permanent deficits (in the order of 1.3 million cubic meters per year) in the underground water basin called the « Vosges Sandstones ».

The three environmental associations sitting on the Local Water Commission condemn the solutions proposed by this commission: water savings by households, no savings by industry and a massive transfer of water on a distance of 30 to 50 kilometres (the Suez group is in charge of this study). Without any assessment of the environmental impacts and despite climate change warnings, the Vosges Departmental Council has already provisionally funded a first phase of the works in March 2016.

Nestlé Waters has built its international “green” image in Vittel, but at the same time it is an extraction company: greenwashing on one hand, and a strong grip on the Vosges Department's water policy on the other. Indeed, its subsidiary Agrivair buys up agricultural lands and rents them to “organic farmers” in order to protect its water catchment areas. There are numerous conflicts of interests: the department’s councillor who presides over the Local Water Commission is deputy mayor of Vittel, but above all, she is the wife of an environmental manager of Nestlé Waters International, who is also president of the “Vigie de l’Eau”. At the request of the Departmental Council and the Prefecture, this association, which he initiated and was put in place by Nestlé, is in charge of plotting the water development and management plan of the south eastern Vosges. Six out of eleven board members of the Vigie de l’Eau are working or have worked for Nestlé.

The objective of Nestlé is to bottle more and more and export internationally. In 1975, with 4500 employees, the Vittel Waters Company was producing 500 million bottles of water taken from the Vosges Sandstones. Thanks to the overexploitation of the Vosges Sandstone, the multinational company produces today more than 2 billion bottles, while having reduced its staff to less than a 1000 employees and planning to reduce it even more (the target being between 200 and 300). The company has a flourishing economic future, but this future is sinister for the Vittel Contrexéville basin. Now Nestlé demands an increase of its takings from the Vosges Sandstones water table, despite its degraded condition, otherwise it will threaten to terminate its production line “Bonne source”. Coming from these sandstones, it considers the line insufficiently profitable, and plans to lay off 200 people (just as Nestlé did when it sold the Quézac trademark, also considered as insufficiently profitable).

One might wonder furthermore about Nestlé’s silence with regard to the project of the burial of nuclear waste at Bure, located within 60 kilometres of Vittel and which would ruin its environmental image, particularly where exports are concerned. Perhaps some agreement was made between the multinational company and the public administration, with Nestlé not disputing the Bure project in exchange for more water takings rights?

Since the beginning of 2016, the three environmental associations sitting on the Local Water Commission have set up a group, called « collectif eau 88 ». It is very difficult for them to raise public awareness because of a strong resistance from the public authorities as well as from the local politicians and the media. Despite press conferences, public debates, open letters to the Vosges Préfet and to the Departmental Council President, reports to the public prosecutorin order to formalize the conflicts of interest, only one satirical newspaper has responded to numerous requests to national media.

The Vosgean environmental associations, together with other communities worry about the management of the aquatic environment. They are perfectly conscious of the necessity to act collectively, since the Vosges situation is far from being an isolated case in France, in Europe and in the world… concerning not only Nestlé, but other extractivist water companies as well.

The environmental associations demand:

  • The impeachment of the president of the Local Water Commission
  • A standstill agreement concerning the Nestlé and Ermitage authorisation requests in process for water takings
  • A thorough review of all possible scenarios, taking into account custom regulated priority, and particularly the savings to be realised by the industry
  • That the different stages of the water development and management plan be made public and debated
  • That more space be given to civil society in the debate and in decision-making bodies
  • Legal shielding of the Vittel and Contrexéville trademarks, it being well known that at Vergès (Gard department) Nestlé had threatened to leave and take away the Perrier trademark
  • That much more attention be given by the public authorities to water management; water should again be considered as a “common good”, and not the monopolistic privilege of a multinational company uniquely preoccupied by its own profit.

Association de protection des Vallées et de Prévention des Pollutions, Oiseaux Nature, Vosges Nature Environnement are members of collectif eau 88

collectifeau88 @