Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) and its predecessors-in-interest have operated in Strawberry Canyon, in the San Bernardino National Forest (SBNF), for over 122 years, sustainably collecting water in compliance with all applicable laws and permits.
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) issued NWNA’s new Special Use Permit (SUP) on June 27, 2018. The SUP became effective on August 24, 2018, and has a three-year term. The SUP authorizes NWNA to operate and maintain its 4-inch stainless steel pipeline across a portion of the SBNF. The SUP is not a permit for water collection, since state water rights are overseen by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), not by the USFS.
We have been actively working with the USFS to study the Strawberry Canyon environment. The permit conditions require that NWNA submit specific plans, including an Operating Plan, a Paired Basin Study Plan, and an Adaptive Management Plan (AMP). The AMP outlines the methods of collection and reporting of data and the management of NWNA’s spring resources in the SBNF. The intent of the AMP is to evaluate the relationship between NWNA’s water use and surface water flow in Strawberry Canyon, so that informed decisions can be made about potential mitigation measures, should the need arise. Since the USFS approved the AMP on March 19, 2019, we have begun implementing this plan, including installation of monitoring equipment to record year-round flows at a number of locations in Strawberry Canyon.
The SWRCB oversees water rights in California. In late December 2017, the SWRCB staff issued a draft Report of Investigation (ROI), outlining their initial understanding of the extent of NWNA’s water rights in Strawberry Canyon. Since the SWRCB staff issued its preliminary report, the SWRCB has not made any final determinations about the extent of NWNA’s water rights in Strawberry Canyon.
Until the SWRCB staff shared its draft ROI in December 2017, we were never informed by the State that there may be a question as to the upper limits of our water rights in Strawberry Canyon.
The SWRCB staff requested that NWNA provide information and data to support a larger volume of water rights. NWNA has done so, providing four reports to the SWCRB that include supporting scientific, historic and legal materials, which directly establish that NWNA has not made any unauthorized water withdrawals. In our initial response on February 9, 2018, we submitted documentation showing that we have rights to collect at least 271 acre-feet per year of surface water and groundwater in Strawberry Canyon.
We have never taken more water than we are entitled to, nor will we in the future.
The ROI requested that NWNA provide the SWRCB with proposed hydrologic studies and compliance plans within certain timeframes. Our second response, provided to the Board on March 12, 2018, included an Interim Compliance Plan demonstrating how NWNA will ensure that the water we collect in Strawberry Canyon does not exceed the amount allowed under our state water rights. NWNA is prepared to work collaboratively with the SWRCB to establish reporting protocols to help ensure that what we collect stays within the limits of our water rights.
Our third response was submitted to the SWRCB on April 10, 2018. It included an Investigation and Monitoring Plan that will help determine how much of the water collected by NWNA is “surface water” and how much is “groundwater,” as those terms are used in California law. NWNA has committed to completing the testing and monitoring, and reporting the results to the SWRCB, 18 months after the SWRCB’s approval of this plan.
As part of our fourth, and most recent, response to the SWRCB submitted on June 20, 2019, we have shared details with the SWRCB about the AMP, Operating Plan, and Paired Basin Study Plan. We will continue to proactively provide the SWRCB with information about NWNA’s study of stream flows, and riparian habitat associated with those flows, in Strawberry Canyon. We hope to meet with the SWRCB staff to discuss the contents of this response and NWNA’s prior responses, and to work collaboratively with them to implement the research methodology proposed by NWNA in Strawberry Canyon. Since we have not yet received any feedback from SWRCB staff about the contents of our earlier responses to the SWRCB, we understand that we may need to amend this fourth report at some point in the future.
As NWNA’s work with the SWRCB and the USFS continues, we remain committed to ensuring that Arrowhead Springs is carefully managed for long-term sustainability, as has been the case over the past 122+ years of water collection operations in Strawberry Canyon.