By DOUGLAS W. MOTLEY
Scores of current and former government officials, along with environmental activists and organizations and interested local residents met at Heaps Peak Arboretum at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4 to celebrate a recent victory against Blue Triton Brands (also known as Nestlé Corp.), the bottler of Arrowhead drinking water.
Opening the meeting was longtime Save Our Forest Association (SOFA) president Hugh Bialecki DMD, who announced that, following multiple rounds of revisions, California’s State Water Resources Control Board on Sept. 19 adopted its final cease and desist order that finds Blue Triton has no water rights in the San Bernardino National Forest and substantially restricts its diversion of water from Strawberry Creek and 10 of its 13 diversion sites.
Speaking next was Steve Loe, a retired biologist and wildlife expert for the Forest Service, who thanked the SOFA Adopt-a-Highway volunteers who regularly clean trash on Highway 18 between Crestline and Rimforest.
“We need to keep pressure on the Forest Service to do the right thing and quickly implement the Water Board cease and desist order,” Loe said. “The Water Board did all they could for us and getting our water back. When I first came here, they were cutting down 300-year-old trees. To take out old trees like that is crazy. Now we have Nestlé taking as much as 60 million gallons of water a year during a drought and Nestlé’s head said, ‘If we could get more water, we would.’ We’ve already lost the spotted bass that had been here for hundreds of years and the Santa Ana suckers and the yellow-legged frog. We need to let the Forest Service know our concerns and send petitions to the State Water Board.”
Environmental Studies Professor Jennifer Alford from Cal State San Bernardino lambasted Nestlé for taking water from the San Bernardino National Forest and selling it for a huge profit in North Carolina which, according to her, already has too much water. Alford, who has developed the Institute for Water Protection at Cal State, said her strategic plan is to get the university’s 30,000 students involved in water protection activities. “They will be the next generation of advocates,” she said.
Chris Jones, coordinator of the Headwaters Resiliency Partnership for the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, who is reportedly a key player in Santa Ana River watershed issues, said two-thirds of the water used in the district comes from the Santa Ana River. “We have a wide range of resources for supporting endangered species, so I’m starting the Headwaters Resiliency Initiative to restore our natural resources.”
Winding up the celebration in the lush environment of Heaps Peak Arboretum in a grove with picnic tables, pizza and pastries was Michael O’Heaney, executive director of the Story of Stuff, an organization that investigates journalism, who flew in from the Bay Area after attending a court hearing in Fresno involving Blue Triton.
“Last week, Blue Triton sued the Water Board to reverse their Sept. 19 decision. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for December,” O’Heaney said, adding, “Blue Triton is not operating on a valid permit, even though the Forest Service continues to give them a permit. We need to keep pressure on the Forest Service. The water should be back in Strawberry Creek. It’s time to remove the borings and tunnels.”
When asked what inspired him to become involved with environmental matters, Bialecki said, “I’ve always been an outdoor person, backpacking in the Sierras and these mountains. San Bernadino County’s approval of development in our mountains strengthens my involvement in SOFA to preserve this small strip of the mountain. We should not let our mountain be overrun. There are few riparian areas left and they are not replaceable.”
Asked for his take on the event, Scott Rindenow, former chairman of the Lake Arrowhead Municipal Advisory Council, said, “They should have been sued years ago. Using water for profiteering is not appropriate. The water belongs to the community, not a private business.”
Longtime Crestline resident Andy Kinzel told the Alpine Mountaineer, “Hugh and everyone else did a fantastic job of identifying a problem that most people were not aware of. Since the problem was identified, the community was able to come together to work to solve it.”