Our operations in the San Bernardino National Forest
Has Nestlé Waters North America been operating illegally without a valid permit in the San Bernardino National Forest?
No. Nestlé Waters’ Special Use permit to operate our catchments and water pipeline in San Bernardino National Forest remains in effect until it is reissued by the United States Forest Service (USFS). The USFS has confirmed to us in writing that our permit is still valid, and that we can continue our operations lawfully.
In March 2016 the USFS issued a Notice of Proposed Federal Action to reissue our permit, subject to a 45-day public comment period.
We are pleased that the permit renewal process is progressing, and look forward to working closely with the Forest Service to ensure that the Arrowhead spring site in Strawberry Canyon continues to operate sustainably.
Does NWNA have a legal right to collect spring water from the San Bernardino National Forest?
Yes. The Arrowhead brand has been bottled here for 121 years, based on the most senior water rights under Californian law. These date back before the creation of the San Bernardino National Forest (SBNF). Our current, valid permit with the USFS only relates to a right-of-way that allows our water pipeline to cross forest land.
Why shouldn’t the Forest Service be able to regulate water use in a National Forest?
Water rights in California are derived from state law, not from the federal government. The State Water Resources Control Board is exclusively authorised to regulate the state’s surface water. The USFS is required to recognise and comply with state laws governing the use of water on federal lands.
While our current permit recognises this deference to California state law, we believe the USFS’s proposal exceeds its legal authority to regulate water, and disregards state laws administering water rights.
This would have potentially far-reaching consequences for businesses, agencies, individuals and other water rights holders throughout California. On May 2, 2016 we shared our concerns with the Forest Service and will continue to work with the USFS and other interested parties as the process continues.
How much water do you extract from the springs in the San Bernardino National Forest?
In 2014, we collected 95 million litres (28 million gallons). This represents less than 10% of measured flow by the US Geological Survey monitoring gauge located at the base of two Canyons, Strawberry Canyon where our springs are located, and neighbouring Twin Creek Canyon. In 2015, which had more rainfall than 2014, we collected approximately 36 million gallons.
Precipitation in the area of our Arrowhead Springs in 2015 (rainfall measured from October 2014 to October 2015) was 20.2% greater than the recorded precipitation in 2014 (from October 2013 to October 2014). Taking a longer-term view, in 2015 we collected 29% less water than the annual average over the last 10 years.
Is that negatively affecting the National Forest?
No. To ensure that our groundwater use is naturally sustainable, NWNA only collects water that naturally flows to the surface of our Arrowhead spring site in Strawberry Canyon. Our team regularly monitors spring water flows and environmental conditions at this site. These show that the forest habitats in this canyon and the neighbouring canyon are healthy and recovering from the devastating wildfires of 2003.
What is your reaction to the lawsuit against the US Forest Service, which mentions your company?
Several social advocacy organizations have filed a lawsuit against the USFS challenging the validity of Nestlé Waters’ Special Use Permit in the San Bernardino National Forest.
We were disappointed to learn of this action, and while we were not named in this lawsuit, we filed an amicus (‘friend of the court’) brief with the court on May 6, 2016. We did this after it requested further briefing to understand if injunctive relief was appropriate. You can read the documents we submitted on the Nestlé Waters website.