State regulators bar Arrowhead from bottling most mountain spring water

A report from eight years ago sparked a state investigation into Arrowhead Water’s water rights in the San Bernardino National Forest.

After more than a century of bottling water from natural springs in California, state regulators ordered the company that owns Arrowhead Water to stop using some of the springs. 

Arrowhead Water is owned by BlueTriton Brands and was formerly owned by Nestle. 


The backstory: In 2015 a report by the Desert Sun revealed that Nestle was taking water from the San Bernardino National Forest despite using a permit that expired in 1988. 

  • The U.S. Forest Service reviewed Nestle’s permit and granted a new one for up to five years in 2018. 
  • But public outcry over Nestle extracting water from the San Bernardino Mountains led to a state investigation into Nestle’s water rights claims. 

The big picture: Tuesday, California regulators upheld a cease and desist order to BlueTriton Brands, ordering the company to stop taking water from pipes and boreholes at 10 sites. 

  • The company is still allowed to divert water under rights to the Arrowhead Springs hotel property, which is owned by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. 
  • BlueTriton Brands argued its water rights precede 1914, when the state first began regulating how water is used, giving them seniority to use the mountain springs. 
  • The company also argued that the water is underground and has not reached the surface, meaning the State Water Resources Control Board would not have the authority to regulate it. 
  • State regulators disagreed, ruling that the company does not have rights to most of the water it has been siphoning because BlueTriton Brands was interfering with water that would otherwise be naturally flowing. 

What they’re saying: “The reality is that you see the interception of what is otherwise water that would be naturally flowing,” said board Chair E Joaquin Esquivel. “This order not only protects these resources but helps maintain faith in the larger water rights system.” 

  • After Tuesday’s vote, BlueTriton Brands announced that it will “vigorously defend our water rights through the available legal process.” 
  • “This ruling creates water rights uncertainty and negatively impacts every water agency and farmer in California that relies on groundwater, and in doing so, indirectly harms every Californian,” the company said.
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