State Water Board Orders Arrowhead Bottler BlueTriton to Cease Unauthorized Water Diversions From The San Bernardino National Forest

By Mark Gutglueck
Today, the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) approved a Cease & Desist Order forcing BlueTriton, the bottler of Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water, to stop the removal of tens of millions of gallons of water annually from a San Bernardino National Forest spring complex that gave the Arrowhead brand its name.
Under the Order adopted Tuesday, BlueTriton is required to allow the bulk of the water it currently removes to bypass its collection facilities – a series of tunnels, boreholes and a pipeline that occupy public lands – by November 1st.
Water originating in the San Bernardino Mountains and using the Arrowhead brand in one form or another had been marketed at least since 1909. Questions have long existed, however, as to whether the water rights originally claimed, attributed or granted to Arrowhead Puritas, the corporate predecessor to Arrowhead Spring Water, pertain to the current source of the water drawn at the 5,200-foot elevation level from Strawberry Creek in what is known as Strawberry Canyon.
In 1929, the California Consolidated Waters Company was formed to merge three Los Angeles-based companies that bottled and distributed “Arrowhead Water,” “Puritas Water” and “Liquid Steam.” The property, bottling operations, water distribution and administration of Arrowhead Springs Company, Puritas of California Consumers Company and the water bottling division of Merchants Ice and Storage were all administered by California Consolidated Waters Company. Soon after, California Consolidated Waters, on the basis of a single pipeline permit that was not based on any water rights and without having obtained a diversion permit or any further valid authorization or rights, in August 1930 started diverting spring water from a single “bedrock crevice” spring in the San Bernardino National Forest along Strawberry Creek at an elevation of 5,600 feet. Subsequently, in 1933 and 1934, the company put in place tunnels, ultimately accompanied by holes and horizontal wells at or near the headwaters of Strawberry Creek in Strawberry Canyon. Strawberry Creek was noted in maps and springs studies prior to the diversion to be a perennial stream which was fed by abundant flowing headwaters springs. Continue reading

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In a deviation of direction that was entirely unanticipated, the central player in the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority is withholding its support of the almost-fully-gestated plan to redress the overdraft in the West Mojave’s aquifer through the importation of water from Northern California.

Snoke Given Nod To Lead County As CEO

On Tuesday, September 12, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to elevate Luther Snoke to the full-fledged position of county chief executive officer.
Snoke, who held the position of county chief operating officer for nearly three years, was brought in to succeed former CEO Leonard Hernandez as acting CEO after the latter was suspended on August 8 of this year, ten days before he officially resigned.
The entire board of supervisors expressed confidence in Snoke in the aftermath of a scandal county officials for more than a month now have refrained from acknowledging. Under Hernandez, the county suffered diminishing productivity and poor execution within multiple county departments after he terminated, forced out or prompted the resignations of multiple senior administrators, department heads and upper- and mid-level managers with whom he had personal differences or personality conflicts, including the individual who was serving as the county’s top in-house lawyer at the time he became CEO, an assistant executive officer for finance and administration, another assistant executive officer, the director of public health, the director of information technology, the director of risk management, a senior deputy county counsel, an individual serving in the capacity of acting economic development director, a deputy director of public works, the director of purchasing, the director of land use services, a deputy executive officer, the director of behavioral health, the director of children and family services, the director of agriculture, weights and measures, the county’s chief learning officer and the director of child support services.For nearly two years, Hernandez and several administrators and department directors he had promoted into the positions of those he had moved out had been able to keep a lid on the county’s burgeoning problems and dysfunction, but beginning last year the county suffered a series of setbacks that were a direct outcome of his mismanagement. Ultimately, Hernandez’s tenure as CEO unraveled when it was revealed that he was involved in a sexual relationship with Pam Williams, the woman he had jumped 17 pay grades from her position as a principal administrative analyst to that of the county’s chief of administration. When, in the wake of that revelation it was learned that Hernandez had been concupiscent with at least two other women working for the county, his then-ongoing vacation leave was extended, and the county quickly negotiated a separation agreement with him in the hope the matter would quietly resolve itself without any attention being focused on it. Continue reading

Membership Assails County GOP Leaders’ Endorsements Of Democrats

The center is not holding and things are falling apart on both sides of San Bernardino County’s political divide, reportedly capturing the interest of federal investigators. At issue is a mélange of backroom deals involving one of the region’s Democratic Congresswomen, her husband and one of their sons, the chairman of San Bernardino County’s Republican Central Committee, a San Bernardino County Supervisor who was formerly the county GOP chairman, the mayor of Fontana and other influential members of the San Bernardino County GOP and its central committee, the City of Fontana and millions of dollars in federal grant money currently or slated to be funneled to that municipality in the future in return for cross-party endorsements, employment promises benefiting politicians’ family members and speculation in land along a major interstate corridor potentially to be impacted by federal legislative action.
The most apparent anomaly at the core of the upheaval are endorsements some of the most powerful members of the San Bernardino County Republican Party are making of either current or hopeful Democrat officeholders. This has touched off a deep countercurrent of both resentment and resistance within the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee that was on display Thursday night at the committee’s September meeting. Continue reading

Ramona Expressway

I WAS HITCHHIKING OUT THE RAMONA EXPRESSWAY, standing to the side of some eucalyptus trees. The sun was slight summer south, so I was full under it. I stood there near an hour after I was left off by this guy pulling a set of hay barges. Alfalfa he was carrying, the sweet-smelling kind they grow in those drained marshes out near the lake.

It was past noon and pushing one o’clock, with the sun getting hotter and hotter, beating down on my head. I told myself, if none of the coming line of cars stopped, I was going over to the shade on the other side of those trees to lie down and take a nap until it got cooler. The first one of the bunch pulled right over when he saw me though, off onto the shoulder, blowing dust and all, a blond guy in a pickup truck. I climbed in. He looked to be about my age, with the sun glaring in his face through the windshield. He wore glasses. He waited for the last of the cars that had been behind him to pass, and he pulled out onto the roadway. “I’m Larry,” he said. Continue reading

County Provided Hernandez With A $650,000 Severance

Amid widespread suspicion that he possessed blackmail material that would prove extremely problematic for some of his political masters on the board of supervisors if it were to be publicly revealed, Leonard Hernandez during his negotiations with the county over his departure as county chief executive officer in August was able to induce the county to provide him with a severance package worth more than $650,000.
Hernandez rose from being a part-time page at the Chino Branch Library in 1998 when he was a student at Cal State University Fullerton to a full-fledged library employee eventually entrusted with supervising operations at the Fontana library, then to the position of county librarian and manager of the county museum. In 2015, he was selected by then Chief County Executive Greg Devereaux to serve as the county deputy executive officer overseeing the library system, the museum, the registrar of voters, the county’s agricultural department and its division of weights and measures. In one of Devereaux’s last actions before he was forced out as county CEO by Supervisor Curt Hagman in 2017, he elevated Hernandez to the position of acting county chief operating officer. Months later, Hernandez was confirmed in the COO role by then-acting CEO Dena Smith. Under the county’s next chief executive officer, Gary McBride, Hernandez established himself as a ruthless operator, becoming known as the affable McBride’s enforcer and hatchet man, one who was not only willing to but seemed to relish handing out pink slips to employees deemed out of step with the county’s goals and production quotas.
In September 2020, the board of supervisors as it was then composed put McBride out to pasture, using window dressing to confer on him a temporary assignment as the special projects coordinator for county programs relating to the COVID-19 pandemic response to be carried out with federal and state grants. Hernandez was made CEO, officially effective the following month. Continue reading

29 Palms Pulling The Plug On Tourism Attraction Effort

Twentynine Palm’s five-year experiment with its downtown Tourism Business Improvement District has come to an end, following a 3-to-2 vote against maintaining the taxing arrangement that funded the program.
In 2018, the city council approved a proposal by city staff to establish the Twentynine Palms Tourism Business Improvement District to levy and collect assessments from all hotels, motels, and vacation home rentals, and any other businesses within the 59.1 square-mile boundaries of the city accommodating visitors which were already subject to the city’s transient occupancy tax, i.e., bed tax, to raise funds to promote tourism within the city.
As a consequence, all motel, hotel and vacation rentals were subject to a 1.5% charge that was tacked on to the bills of those staying in those facilities.
California’s Parking and Business Improvement Area Law, which was passed in 1989 and was incorporated as Section 36500 et. sequitur of the California Streets and Highways Code, authorizes cities to establish business improvement areas for the purposes of promoting tourism. Continue reading

Morongo Superintendent Vargas Relatively Unscathed In This Morning’s High Speed Accident

Following an initial report that Morongo Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Patricio Vargas was critically injured in a high-speed automobile collision, word has reached the Sentinel that he was shaken up as a result of the mishap but essentially physically intact in its aftermath.
Vargas was traveling south in his SUV on Utah Trail at approximately 10:25 this morning when he was clipped by another vehicle.
Vargas’s vehicle suffered extensive damage to its front end.
The driver’s side air bag deployed, which based upon photos examined by the Sentinel, likely accounts for Vargas having eluded serious injury or death.
Based upon limited information available to the Sentinel, Vargas’s vehicle went head into the right side of another SUV that was traveling west on Amboy Road.
The Morongo Unified School District headquarters are located at 5715 Utah Trail, which is roughly one mile distant from the scene of the accident.

Hughes Leaving In December As Highland City Manager

Joseph Hughes, who has been Highland’s city manager since 2006, will retire on December 29, he revealed this week.
Upon Hughes publicly declaring his intention, the Highland City Council authorized the hiring of a headhunting firm to recruit his replacement.
Hughes, is considered the municipality’s second city manager, having succeeded Sam Racadio in the top administrator’s spot in 2006. Robert Covington, who had previously been San Bernardino County administrator, served as the city council’s guide in managing operations during Highland’s first three months in existence, but is not listed as having been Highland city manager.
Both Hughes and Racadio began with City of Highland in 1988, shortly after the city’s November 1987 incorporation. Hughes moved into the city manager’s post partly on the strength of his performance in his first sixteen years with the city and partially due to Racadio’s endorsement of him as his successor. Continue reading