Steve Loe, retired wildlife biologist who spent a 40-year career with the Forest Service, and 35 of that in the San Bernardino Mountains. His earliest conservation effort was halting the harvesting of 300-400 year old trees of commercial value – with the Sierra Club and SOFA, this was accomplished against the will of the logging companies. Strawberry Peak was also considered for sale at one point, but the community rose up and demanded it be kept as a protected property. These two issues show that a community CAN direct the actions of the Forest Service.
4″ pipe that carries water from the wells dug by Nestlé
The Nestlé Company is Swiss – and a large supplier of bottled water. In fact, the CEO of Nestlé has stated for the record he does not believe clean drinking water is a human “right”. The rights to the water in the National Forest are historical – dating from 1929, a time when there was literally nothing known about water tables and ground water. A tunnel, 18 feet in diameter that was drilled through the mountain educated us to a degree – enough for the Department of Water and Power to be required to fully line it to prevent draining the water tables it went through. Nestlé has the right to surface water collection, but the water being removed is NOT surface water – it is taken by drilling horizontal wells up to 500 feet through rock ‘bowls’ to release water that is held within. This ‘ground water’ that slowly percolates out feeds streams, which in turn keeps vegetation and wildlife healthy.
The Forest Service is afraid of Nestlé; the profits over the decades from this water amount to billions of dollars, much of which is available to fund law suits against the Service if Nestlé chooses to do so. A lawsuit against the Forest Service was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, The Story of Stuff and Courage Campaign. The first court date is set for June 13th in the Riverside Federal Court, and is open to the public. Heads up information will be provided via e-mail as it becomes available. The Department of Water resources is questioning whether the original claim to the water is valid a great deal of research, some by private individuals, is so far revealing that Nestlé only has the right to collect excess water, but may be violating the law by drilling for it. Future lawsuits against Nestlé are being considered.
In general, Republican interest groups and coalitions of lawmakers are banding together to remove lands from the public and give them to the States to then sell or lease for profit. Paul Cook, Representative for CD 8, is one of those, and has given public support to Nestlé, but 30,000 people have expressed their outrage. The public can contribute to further resistance with demands that newspapers publish articles that insist the public and environment be protected. One audience member related how their private well is almost dry, keeping them from showering or doing laundry as in the past, or irrigating even within restricted water use guidelines that most have already adopted.
Nestlé’s arguments in the press and in an amicus brief to the court are largely specious – the number of jobs they list are not all tied to the water extraction, and their claims of due diligence are demonstrably false. There is no baseline information about how the extraction has changed the water available for wildlife and vegetation. That would require they refrain from taking the water for their extremely lucrative bottling. The drought has lowered water tables, changed permanent streams to seasonal ones, and nothing has been done by Nestlé to counter this in Strawberry Creek. Perhaps the Company, like some candidates for public office, is unwilling to accept that there IS a drought, or that it is likely to become worse.