The millions of litres of water being extracted from the ground in Pembrokeshire by the world’s largest food and beverage company will come under the environmental spotlight later this year.
Even ahead of the current hosepipe ban, objections have been lodged with Natural Resources Wales into an application made by the Nestlé-owned Princes Gate Spring Water Ltd to abstract up to 314 million litres of water from an aquifer which supplies a network of streams in south-east Pembrokeshire.
The area has previously been exempt from groundwater licencing control.
One lifelong resident of the area recalled the days when 'the streams never stopped flowing'.
Now streams are dry and the fears of subsidence, first raised several years ago, are increasing.
Mary Sinclair, the chair of the Pembrokeshire branch of the Campaign for Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW), told the Western Telegraph: “No-one wants to prevent Nestlé bottling the water but NRW is committed to keeping Wales’ underground aquifers in good health and people are genuinely worried that subsidence may occur if too much is extracted near their homes.”
In the response to the application, she stated: “We object to the quantity of water this firm of water bottlers is seeking to extract. We believe evidence shows that too much water is being extracted from the aquifer leading to a net loss which results in surface problems for local residents.
"We ask that the amount requested be reduced substantially to enable to aquifer to begin to replenish. Nearly all the water abstracted by PGSW company will be sold out of the area as bottled drinking water and will be lost to the aquifer."
Mrs Sinclair was amongst landowners and environmentalists who previously raised the issue as far back as 2016, voicing fears to the Western Telegraph that an 'environmental catastrophe' was waiting to happen in the Ludchurch area of south Pembrokeshire.
The community is to the south of the Princes Gate Spring Water factory, where Nestlé acquired a majority share in 2018.
One resident, Peter Scourfield, has lived in the area all his life.
“I remember that the streamsnever stopped flowing, even in the heatwave of 1976," he said.
“There was a spring in the field that fed a 70-head dairy herd, and yet now my brother next door has had to sink a borehole to get water.
"Our water disappeared five years ago and there is nothing we seem to be able to do about it. Nobody wants to know. These springs won’t come back.
"The ground is steadily sinking, fence lines aere down and hollows have appeared by my house.
"What really bugged me was at the start of the hosepipe ban the water continued pouring down the road from Princes Gate.
"They’ve told me that if they won’t stop the pumps because it costs money to start them up again."
John Wheadon, Permitting Service Manage, of Natural Resources Wales, said: “The Princes Gate Spring Water Limited abstraction is located in an area where abstraction from groundwater was previously exempt.
"Following the removal of the exemption, the company has submitted a licence application which Natural Resources Wales is required to determine by 31 December, 2022.
"Under the transitional licensing process, there is a limit to how much water Princes Gate Spring Water Limited are entitled to abstract. This shall not exceed the amount of water historically abstracted.
"In line with existing legislation and advertising assessment criteria, the application by Princes Gate Spring Water Limited was advertised on NRW’s website and in the Tenby, Narberth and Whitland Observer on 23 April 2021.
"Members of the public were able to relay their concerns relating to water abstraction activity by Princes Gate during that consultation period. We will be assessing these carefully as part of the decision-making process.
"If there are any further concerns about water abstraction during this period of prolonged dry weather, they are advised to call NRW’s incident line on 0300 065 3000."
But Mr Scourfield commented: “I would question the existence and usefulness of NRW. All their letterheads say they protect the environment, but they definitely haven’t done so in Ludchurch.”
Princes Gate Spring Water’s operations director, Endaf Edwards, told Wales Online last month: "As an Industry natural mineral waters tend to be historical sources, originating from deeper aquifers, which are recharged over a longer period of time than surface level waters.
"At Princes Gate, we take our responsibility for these water sources and the collective action to support wider watersheds very seriously.
"We work closely with the authorities for the long term, sustainable water management in the catchment around our facility, in addition to the extremely precise daily monitoring of our water consumption from our wells to the bottling lines.
"Strict limits are set for all water abstractors, and this includes natural source water producers. These limits are set by the local authority to ensure sustainability, meaning only a very small amount of the rain that falls on a producer’s catchment area is bottled.
"Princes Gate follow all of the authorities’ requirements in this respect."