Bialecki’s Letter To Congressman Aguilar Focusing On San Bernardino Mountain Water Diversion

19 February 2024
Congressman Pete Aguilar, 33rd District
108 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Aguilar,

We need your help.
For nearly a decade, our organization’s members have worked alongside Inland Empire residents and tens of thousands of other Californians to right a nearly century-long wrong: the annual removal of tens of millions of gallons of the American people’s water from the San Bernardino National Forest for bottling by a series of private water companies, including bottling giants Nestle Waters and, now, its successor BlueTriton Brands.
This water is piped downhill from springs nestled in the San Bernardino mountains at the headwaters of Strawberry Creek and then bottled in plastic and marketed as Arrowhead Brand 100% Mountain Spring Water.
As you may know, Nestle’s controversial removal of this water first burst into public view in the mid-2010s during our state’s profound drought, as federally-managed public lands burned across the west. As Californians were collectively reducing our water use by a dramatic 40%, Nestle kept up its removal of water from these parched public lands, pledging publicly to remove as much as it could despite the fact that its Forest Service permit to do so had been expired for nearly 30 years and serious questions had been raised about whether the company had a valid right to the water.
In the nearly decade since, we have collectively written letters, held meetings, organized petitions signed by hundreds of thousands of Americans, filed lawsuits, participated in public workshops and hearings, made complaints to myriad state and federal agencies and ultimately provided evidence and testimony in a successful State Water Resources Control Board adjudication of the question of BlueTriton’s water rights.
In September, California’s Water Board found unanimously that BlueTriton and its predecessors have been removing spring water from Strawberry Creek without a valid water right since the early 1930s and ordered it to stop, an intervention that made headlines around the country.
But that victory for the preservation of our public resources has unfortunately proven hollow thus far, both because of a stay of that Order granted by a state court judge – hobbling the State’s enforcement abilities – and, perhaps more importantly, because of the willful intransigence of the United States Forest Service, which separate and apart from the State has refused to fulfill its own lawful obligation to remove this scar on our federally-managed public lands.
Today, BlueTriton is again operating on these public lands without a valid Forest Service permit, which was forfeited when its investors bought Nestle Waters North America’s bottling business several years ago; further, it is operating in blatant violation of the very clear terms of that now invalid permit, refusing to comply even with the Forest Service’s tepid requirements to reduce the damage the water removal has done and continues to do to this vital urban interface habitat.
Unfortunately, the Forest Service has feigned helplessness in the face of threats from the company that any effort to restrict its water take would be met with legal action. Which begs the question: is the Forest Service’s duty to this one private corporation, which is operating outside the law? Or is it to the public, whose very resources are being plundered month after month?
We have done everything one could ask of a group of interested private citizens – and yet the Forest Service, which is charged with sustainably managing the public’s shared natural resources, fails to act in the public interest.
We sincerely request your intervention, which we believe could unlock the Forest Service’s apparent unwillingness to do what is required of it under the law. Absent action, not only will the continued removal of water damage the plant and animal life sustained by an already impaired Strawberry Creek, it will also damage the already tarnished reputation of this incredibly important federal agency.
We would greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with you or your representatives to discuss our concerns and would be happy to tour the area in the National Forest where water removal is occurring with you or any interested members of your staff.
Hugh A. Bialecki, DMD
Pres., Save our Forest Association, Inc.
Post Office Box 126, Rim Forest, CA 92378
Cell : 909-953-0299.
Steve Farrell, Conservation Chair
San Bernardino Mtns Group Sierra Club
Amanda Frye, Citizen Activist, Redlands, CA
Steve Loe, USFS Wildlife Biologist (ret), Highland, CA
Michael O’Heaney, Executive Director
Story of Stuff Project, Berkeley, CA
Cc: USFS San Bernardino Forest Supervisor Danelle Harrison
USFS San Bernardino Front Country District Ranger Michael Nobles
USFS San Bernardino Public Services Staff Officer David Anderson

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