Published in the Mountain News, October 6th, 2016
“National Forests exist today because the people want them,” said Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the United States Forest Service (USFS) from 1905 to 1910. “To make them accomplish the most good, the people themselves must make clear how they want them run.”
An American forester and politician, Pinchot reformed the management of U.S. forests. He advocated for conservation of the nation’s reserves by planned use and renewal. Pinchot created the term “conservation ethic,” and it was his leadership that established forest conservation as a high priority for America.
Considering the controversy of Nestlé’s annual extraction of 38 million gallons of water from Strawberry Creek, now is the time when the people must make clear how they want the San Bernardino National Forest (SBNF) run, particularly with regard to corporate extraction and retail sale of the people’s water for profit.
For some, the solution is obvious. During this fifth year of California’s drought, everyone needs to conserve water. That includes the powerful multi-national foreign corporation that sells Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water to the people of California at an enormously profitable price. It is clear that the SBNF should either decline to renew Nestlé’s Special Use Permit, or renew it with restrictions that will protect the stream, riparian habitat, wildlife, forest and the groundwater supply.
Why isn’t the Forest Service making Nestlé do the right thing? That answer seems clear: The threat of a lawsuit. Nestlé is no doubt building a case against the Forest Service to protect its long-time access to the water source, and to utilize its purported right to extract as much of the water as its bottom line desires.
The USFS wants to avoid that battle at all costs. After all, the SBNF could not afford to review Nestlé’s expired permit for a period of 28 years; it could not fund the studies necessary to establish a baseline on health of the forest; and it could not pay the costs to monitor and document the effects on the forest as Nestlé continued to suck the life out of Strawberry Creek. The SBNF cannot afford to fight a multi-billion-dollar corporation in court for years and years and years.
In the meantime, Nestlé will continue to extract water, and the Forest Service might find itself scrambling to analyze a complex maze of permit agreements, biological studies and water rights in order to broker a deal for water that might not exist, when all is said and done, if the aquifer is not protected or replenished.
With the arrival of October comes a waiting season. Californians are surviving another dry year, using shower buckets to capture cold water while waiting for the warm; ignoring their brown lawns; and using every trick imaginable to conserve water. With the arrival of October also comes the most dangerous time of the year: fire season.
Going into this winter, reservoirs are holding only a fraction of their usual amounts. Wells in the mountain communities and throughout the state have gone dry. The drought and the last few years of record-breaking heat have put water in short supply. Congress is unlikely to increase Nestlé’s annual permit fee much above its current rate of $524 per year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the USFS are unlikely to put limits on how much water Nestlé can continue to take.
All because Nestlé is very powerful. Otherwise, the United States government and the State of California would act to protect the people’s water resources. The situation is shameful.
Local forests are the backbone supporting the natural beauty and amazing diversity of plants and animals in Southern California. More than 3,000 plant and 500 animal species, many of which are endemic to the South Coast, occur nowhere else on Earth. Without water, they will die. Nestlé’s plundering must end.