By Amanda Frye
Hidden from site by forest brush is the Strawberry Creek headwater spring. The spring is known only as “A6108.” According to the State Water Board, Spring A6108 is appropriated to the San Bernardino National Forest. The Forest Service lists the spring water right priority date as October 31, 1928, which coincides with “Article X Water” being added to the California Constitution in 1928.
Article X and its key subcomponent Section 2 came about as a consequence of the lawsuit Herminghaus v. Southern Calif. Edison filed in 1926 and adjudicated in 1928 which concerned riparian rights on the San Joaquin River and the use of that water to replenish the soil. Article X Section 2 declares that all uses of water must be for a beneficial purpose and must be reasonable in quantity. Under Article X, while it is assumed the general welfare requires that the water resources in California be put to beneficial use to the fullest extent of which they are capable, the waste or unreasonable use of water is to be prevented and a water right does not extend to the waste or unreasonable use of water. In this way, multiple uses of water and the reuse and recycling of water is favored and reserving or dedicating water for a single-purpose use is disfavored.
These principles are of relevance in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Occasionally, Spring A6108 has been referenced as “highway spring” since its diversion provided mountain fresh water for the Red Rock Wall fount along Highway 18 starting in the 1920s. Historic documents list the spring flow as over 9,000-10,000 gallons per day. The United States Geological Survey 1915 California Springs water supply paper describes a “cold spring of considerable size” in this location. In 1985, this spring ceased being diverted to the red rock wall drinking fountain. The forest service changed the beneficial use to wildlife enhancement and fire protection.
In October 2016, a Spring A6108 site survey was conducted by U.S. Forest Service Hydrologist Robert Taylor along with Michelle Bearmar, Southern California province geotechnical engineer. Field notes describe the spring as “damp” with “ no discernible flow.” Photos reveal a damp moss covered rock face visible through thick riparian vegetation.
Site survey notes confirm the spring is still being put to beneficial use at the diversion point.
Nestlé Waters of North America, Inc. engages in the extraction of approximately 35 million gallons of water annually from Strawberry Canyon/Strawberry Creek in the San Bernardino National Forest by means of boreholes and horizontal wells several hundred feet distant from Spring A6108.
A question among hydrologists and U.S. Forest Service biologists is whether Spring A6108 water output dwindled as the result of Nestlé’s removing millions of gallons of groundwater nearby. Those familiar with the circumstance believe that forest spring’s reduction from a flow of 10,000 gallons per day to only moisture is related to the Nestlé operation.
Nestlé pipes this groundwater down the mountain to trucks, which haul it away to be bottled and sold as “Arrowhead 100% Mountain Spring Water.” Nestlé continues to drain the forest groundwater despite expired permits, drought, and no solid proof of water rights in this National Forest location. Nestlé’s pipeline right-a-way permit annual fee is $524. This permit expired in 1987 and has been under National Environmental Policy Act review by the Forest Service for the last several years. A federal lawsuit over the expired permit was filed by Center for Biodiversity, Story of Stuff and Campaign Courage and is currently in the appeal process.
The State Water Board’s Natalie Stork said “We are currently investigating water rights issues in the East Twin Creek watershed,” which includes upper Strawberry Creek where Nestlé’s borehole wells and tunnels are located. According to the SWRCB data base, A6108 is the only appropriated water right in this section of the San Bernardino National Forest and the Forest Service is the rightful owner. Hydrologists believe that if Nestlé’s borehole and well operations cease, Spring A6108 will return to its historical flow rate.
By Amanda Frye