FAQ About Nestlé Waters' Arrowhead Springs Permitting

How much water does NWNA have the right to use from Arrowhead Springs in California? Who determines that?

The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) oversees certain surface water rights in California. In late December 2017, the SWRCB staff prepared a draft Report of Investigation (ROI), outlining its initial understanding of the extent of NWNA’s water rights in Strawberry Canyon. In a series of responses, we submitted documentation supporting our claim to collect at least 271 acre-feet per year (AFY) or 88.3 million gallons/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.

Is Nestlé Waters illegally extracting water from San Bernardino National Forest?

No, not at all. In fact, SWRCB staff confirmed that NWNA has valid pre-1914 surface water rights and groundwater rights and we are permitted to continue to use these senior water rights and our water collections are within these rights. The SWRCB staff did, however, invite NWNA to supplement the materials being considered by staff to support additional water rights, and we did so in our series of responses to the SWRCB (the initial, second, third and fourth responses to the SWRCB are linked here). 

How do water rights work in California? What does it mean when you say you have “senior water rights”?

California ranks the priority of rights to water by a complex system, depending on the history of the water use, the volumes of water used, and the type of right implicated.  NWNA and its predecessors have held the most senior classification of water rights to use the water from Arrowhead Springs since the late 1800s—before the San Bernardino National Forest was created. Because water rights throughout the state are ranked by priority, NWNA’s rights are superior to those of any other party with water rights in Strawberry Canyon.

Some people and media sources have said that NWNA doesn’t pay for the water it takes from Arrowhead Springs. Is that true?

This is not true. NWNA owns the water rights to Arrowhead Springs, so it would not be the case that we would have to pay someone for the privilege of collecting the water.  This is both legal and common in California. Owning water rights rather than paying water usage fees has been equated by some as a similar concept to owning a home rather than paying rent every year. NWNA acquired the water rights in Strawberry Canyon when Nestlé purchased Perrier in 1992.  The LA Times covered that transaction including the price of purchase. As part of this $2.6 billion (1992 dollars) acquisition, NWNA acquired the Arrowhead water business and the water sources for it in Strawberry Canyon which are still used today. 

The water rights in Strawberry Canyon (Arrowhead Spring water source) have been bought and sold many times over the past 125 years. Nestlé’s ownership of these water rights is well established. Most recently, we presented the chain of title to the water rights in our initial and second responses to the SWRCB.

Did the SWRCB order you to stop collecting a significant amount of the water currently used at Arrowhead Springs?

The SWRCB did not order NWNA to alter our water collection. The ROI was an initial draft prepared by SWRCB staff, and has not as yet been finalized by the SWRCB.  The ROI acknowledges that we have a valid pre-1914 surface water right for 26 acre-feet per year (AFY), as well as long-standing rights to 126 AFY of groundwater, for a total of 152 AFY (49.5 million gallons/year).

It is important to be clear that the SWRCB has not issued any ruling to NWNA. SWRCB’s staff issued a preliminary ROI in December 2017. Since receiving their staff’s preliminary report, the SWRCB has not made any formal or official reports or statements about NWNA’s water rights in Strawberry Canyon.  This includes no decisions about taking an enforcement action against NWNA.

Is the State Water Resources Control Board’s 2017 report a final decision?

No. It is important to be clear that the SWRCB has not issued any ruling to NWNA. SWRCB’s staff issued a preliminary report in December 2017. Since receiving their staff’s preliminary report, the SWRCB has not made any formal or official reports or statements about NWNA’s water rights in Strawberry Canyon.   This includes no decisions about taking an enforcement action against NWNA.

NWNA has always cooperated with the SWRCB, and will continue to provide the Board with requested information. To date, NWNA has submitted our  initial, second, third and fourth responses, as requested by the SWRCB in its December 21, 2017 Report of Investigation. 

What are the next steps with the SWRCB report?

Since the SWRCB staff issued its preliminary report in December 2017, we have submitted four timely responses, as they asked us to do. We are waiting to receive feedback on those responses. In the meantime, 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 our responses, and to work collaboratively with them to implement the research methodology proposed by NWNA in Strawberry Canyon.

How will your operations be impacted by the SWRCB report? Will you need to stop producing Arrowhead® Brand Mountain Spring Water?

NWNA’s water collections are well within the limits suggested by the draft ROI and the additional rights which we have demonstrated to the SWRCB.  Californians have enjoyed Arrowhead® Brand Mountain Spring Water for more than 120 years. We are proud to continue the tradition and look forward to serving our customers for many years to come. At this time, it is too early to know what, if any implications the SWRCB’s final report might have on our business – once they issue it. However, it is important to note that we diversify our spring sources in order to meet customer demand for our Arrowhead® Brand Mountain Spring Water.

Can Nestlé Waters take water from a National Forest?

Yes. National forests are not the same as national parks. In the United States, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is specifically designated as a “Land of Many Uses” which includes extractive industries such as timber harvesting, mineral mining, oil and gas pumping, and much more. This differs from the U.S. National Parks which are part of the U.S. Department of Interior and are managed for conservation. 

According to the Federal Government’s Government Accountability Office (GAO), “Both the Forest Service and (Bureau of Land Management) manage their lands for multiple uses and provision of a sustained yield of renewable resources such as timber, fish and wildlife, forage for livestock, and recreation. On the other hand, the National Park Service manages its lands to conserve their scenery, natural and historical objects, and wildlife so they will remain unimpaired for the enjoyment of current and future generations.”

We are private water rights holders with rights pre-dating the formation of the San Bernardino National Forest. Strawberry Canyon’s Arrowhead Springs are sustainable with a renewable resource that is managed responsibly. 

NWNA currently holds all the permits necessary to access and collect spring water from Arrowhead Springs and transport the water across U.S. Forest lands. 

Will the SWRCB report supersede the U.S. Forest Service permit granted to NWNA?

The SWRCB report and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) permit renewal are two separate processes. Our Special Use Permit (SUP) with the USFS is for the right-of-way for the four-inch, stainless steel pipeline we use to transport water from the springs.

The USFS issued NWNA’s new 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 four-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 SWRCB, not by the USFS. 

Is the SWRCB report the reason you agreed to an Adaptive Management Plan (AMP)?

No. The AMP is unrelated to this report from the SWRCB. NWNA is committed to continuing to sustainably manage the Arrowhead Springs we steward. For that reason, we agreed to develop an AMP as part of the USFS’ process for our renewed SUP for the right-of-way of the four-inch, stainless steel pipeline we use to transport water from the springs.