Many of you have been wondering what was going on with the Nestle permit in Strawberry Creek. We lost the lawsuit, but that only said the permit was still valid even if the Forest Service hadn’t renewed the permit for 28 years. It did not say the FS does not have authority to manage the permit and make modifications to protect the National Forest and its resources.
The real crime on this issue is the FS not having the guts or political ability to stand up to Nestle and do the right thing for Strawberry Creek. Nestle’s own studies showed there was an impact to the stream. That study was not even in a severe drought like today. This week will be the lowest stream flow ever recorded for this date in 94 years of record keeping and likely the lowest in hundreds of years. And yet, we are allowing Nestle to keep taking All the water they can get (35 million gallons during the drought) from the headwaters of Strawberry Creek for a non-essential use. Some of this bottled water is even exported outside the Region to areas not experiencing drought. In some years Nestle has taken over 500 million gallons.
The Forest Service took action on over 700 recreation residence permits within the Forest to make sure their use was not impacting the springs and streams as called for in the Forest Plan, FS policy, regulations and interagency agreements. Some of these cabin owners had been taking water from streams and springs for 70 plus years. Some had water rights. In order to renew their permits they were required to eliminate their impact to riparian habitat and TES species according to Forest Service, Fish and Game, and Water Resources Board policy, regulations, and plans. Where impacts could not be avoided, they were forced to stop taking water and haul it in. This cost some of them $5-8,000 for tanks and plumbing. This was huge to these cabin owners at a time when things were already tough financially. There were no studies proving their diversions were causing environmental damage, but it is well known fact accepted by all that our streams in southern California are stressed by low flows in the summer. There is no excess water in the summer to any of our streams, not just on National Forest. We don’t need studies to prove we are in severe drought and that it is seriously impacting Southern California streams. Fish rescue operations have been taking place where streams are drying.
Nestle’s permit is about as old as many of the recreation residences. Strawberry Creek is more significant biologically in terms of riparian and potential riparian habitat, ability to support large numbers of TES species, landscape linkage value than any of the streams impacted by recreation residences. And yet, Nestle is allowed to continue taking as much water as they can get during the worst drought in history.
Whether Nestle has water rights or not, the Forest Service has the authority to enforce the permit and make whatever modifications as needed to protect the National Forest for the public. Nestle has now said there is no impact and that the Forest Service has no control over them in regards to water since they have a right that predates the Forest Service. We all know now that this claim is bogus. They have threatened to file a multi-million $$$ lawsuit if the FS tries to take any of “their” water.
It is becoming clear that the FS as the overlying landowner has the say on the use of groundwater along with the State if the state wants to get involved. They (Nestle) are not taking spring water that naturally flows to the surface under a water right as they claim. They have wells, tunnels and boreholes up to 500 feet deep into the groundwater. Their take is affecting others in addition to the Forest Service that have wells and reservoirs that are connected to the same aquifer.
The FS is either afraid of Nestle and their threatened lawsuits, or they are being held hostage politically by the politicians that are all about state and local rights over federal, and would like to turn as much public land into profit as possible. Even our local mountain representative Paul Cook said to the Desert Sun that he would like to see the San Bernardino National Forest given to state and local agencies because they could do a better job of managing than the Forest Service. He said FS should go slow with modifying the Nestle permit.
I have a gut feeling that the issue of Strawberry Creek Permit and control of groundwater on public land is wrapped up in this federal vs state and local supremacy crap. The International Bottled Water Association along with some western states and the anti-Fed senators and congressmen were recently able to stop the Groundwater Policy, Manual and Handbook for the Forest Service. This policy was worked on for years and used the local MWD Arrowhead Tunnel as an example of how groundwater should be managed on the National Forest.
I also know that the FS is trying to get fire funding made separate to protect other FS funding that is being decimated by Fire Control costs and this may be being used as a lever by corrupt senators and congressmen to get the FS to be good to wealthy contributors like the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), Nestle, etc.. I wish I knew how to find Nestle and IBWA contributions to politicians and which ones were being paid to pressure the Forest Service and other Federal land management agencies to continue to allow environmentally damaging extractive uses and continue extractive permits without conditions to protect the environment.
Remember, ex Forest Supervisor Gene Zimmerman works for them and helps them strategize influencing government for the good of Nestle. Ann Veneman, ex-Secretary of Agriculture, is on the Board of Nestle (the largest food and water bottling company in the World). Nestle Regional Manager has long been on the Board of Southern California Mountains Foundation (Formerly San Bernardino National Forest Association) a very effective support group started by Gene Zimmerman.
Nestle is very well connected at all levels of government and is powerful enough to stop FS Policy changes and now it appears the can stop Special Use Permit Administration. Gabe Garcia, former District Ranger on the Front Country District, told me earlier in the drought that he would be transferred if he tried to take any action on the Nestle Permit.
I do not know or understand the pressure that the Forest Service must be under to be so afraid of public disclosure and transparency. I have never seen a NEPA project or permit where the Forest Service refused to take public field trips when requested, where employees were afraid of losing their job if they talked about the project, where all press contacts had to be through a Regional Office, where no word is given to the public for many months after thousands of scoping comments were received, where any information on the project must be requested through a formal Freedom of Information Act request, etc.. This project is being handled different that any I was involved in for over 40 years. The only thing it could be is Nestle and the power they have somehow gotten over the Forest Service and our government.
– Talk about Social Injustice. (Cabin owners treatment vs Nestle).
– Talk about Corporate Control of our government and politicians (Cook and other legislators support).
– Talk about High level corruption and buddy system at the top of government.
– Talk about political control of agencies by corrupt politicians.
The handling of this permit has it all.
I will be asking the Forest Service again to take control of the permit and request Nestle to stop taking water until the groundwater and surface water are able to recover. The groundwater is severely depleted and it is being reflected in where and how much surface and subsurface flow is in Strawberry Creek. There are many Threatened, endangered, and sensitive species and their habitats that are being adversely affected.
We need to do everything we can to expose this terrible mess. The Forest Service, Nestle and others are probably hoping to keep this quiet until after elections. I totally disagree and believe this issue and where politicians and agencies stand needs to be public so we can have some influence in the upcoming elections. If they support Nestle over public land management and the citizens that own the public land we need to know it.
Thank you everyone for the work you have done and the continued support for the San Bernardino National Forest. it is our Forest, not Nestle’s. If you have any ideas of what can be done to expose the pressure and get some action on the permit, please share with us.