Asahi – which owns popular brands including Schwepps, Cottee’s, Spring Valley, Gatorade, Pepsi and Cool Ridge – was delivered with a monster 3,000 page petition at its Melbourne offices on Friday (12 October).
At the centre of the protest is the small community of Stanley, whose population of 371 and residents and farmers from surrounding areas are against the multinational taking its groundwater to be bottled and sold to consumers.
The district, which is home to apple and chestnut growers and associated agricultural businesses, claims the groundwater is its only source of water, and that Asahi has been removing it by the truckload for almost two years.
“Every week, water miners pump hundreds of thousands of litres of groundwater from the town, then truck it away to be bottled and sold by one of the world’s largest beverage companies: Asahi-Schweppes,” an online petition hosted by international consumer group SumOfUs states.
“There are no rivers in Stanley. This tiny community in the Australian state of Victoria is totally reliant on groundwater to sustain the fruit and nut orchards which have provided the livelihood of the town’s 370 residents for over a century.
“The community had no say when Asahi started bottling their water.”
It is calling on Asahi to cease removing the town’s water, after Stanley residents lost their bid to appeal a Supreme Court decision in Asahi’s favour, and were ordered to pay $90,000 in legal costs.
As at midday on 12 October, 2018, the petition had received 125,551 signatures.
The petition also has the support of the local mayor Jenny O’Connor.
In addition to delivering the petition, the group who ventured into Melbourne for the occasion also presented Asahi with crates of local produce to demonstrate what could be lost if water supplies in the region were exhausted.
Asahi confirmed it had received the petition and listened to the concerns of those present. But in a statement, it said the water extracted at Stanley is “not one of our primary water sources”.
“We responsibly manage the water sources we use to ensure the impact on communities and the environment is minimised, it said.
“The water source we use comes from a bore on a property which is owned by a third-party supplier. The property has a licence for 19ML of ground water to be used per year, and current usage by Asahi Beverages falls well below this. We undertake regular audits to ensure our suppliers’ sites operate within licensing and sustainability requirements and this site is audited annually by an independent third-party auditor. This is not one of our primary water sources, and is used only as needed.
“The area around Stanley has some of the highest rainfall in Victoria, with nearby Myrtleford topping the list for the highest annual mean rainfall in the state. Hydrologists have concluded that the current rate of extraction is well within what is considered a sustainable rate for the source.”
The company added: “We use the water from the Stanley bore in a responsible way, complying with all the relevant water authorities, which aim to ensure there is sufficient water for the farmers, the community and water businesses to all operate successfully.”