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After another dry winter that threatens to worsen water shortages across California, state officials accused a water bottling company of diverting too much water from forests in the San Bernardino area .

Officials released a draft cease-and-desist letter to the company last week – the latest development in a battle that has been going on for years.

BlueTriton, known as Nestlé Waters North America until it changed its name this month after its acquisition by a private equity firm, includes the Poland Spring and Arrowhead bottled water brands. .

In the letter, sent on April 23, the National Water Resources Control Board said that “Nestlé has 20 days from receipt of this notice” to respond. The process could lead to a formal cease-and-desist order and possible monetary penalties, if formally approved by the board.

“During the state’s historic drought, the Water Rights Division of the National Water Board received several complaints alleging that Nestlé’s continued water diversions had depleted Strawberry Creek,” he said. the board said in a statement, referring to a waterway that runs through the San Bernardino area east of Los Angeles.

He said the water diversion had led to “a reduction in the downstream potable water supply and impacts on sensitive environmental resources.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for BlueTriton said the company was “disappointed” with the move and would pursue legal options to correct the “misinterpretation” of California law by representatives of the United States. ‘State.

“For more than 125 years, BlueTriton Brands and its predecessors have sustainably collected water from Arrowhead Springs to Strawberry Canyon,” the company said. “We pride ourselves on being good stewards of the environment, while providing a great product that Californians love.”

Strawberry Creek isn’t the only place in California where the company collects water, but it has become a focal point for local organizations, residents, and environmentalists – especially as California grapples with it. water shortages, worsening droughts and devastating forest fires.

“Should we really be extracting water from a national forest and putting it in plastic bottles and selling it at a significant mark-up?” said Michael O’Heaney, executive director of Story of Stuff, an environmental advocacy group based in Berkeley, Calif., which has filed complaints against Nestle. “It’s a misuse of our resources.”

The US Forest Service charges the company an annual fee of $ 2,100 to maintain its infrastructure in the Strawberry Creek area, according to The Desert Sun, which investigated Nestlé’s activities in California in 2015 and reported that the Forest Service had allowed the company to take water. from the forest using a permit that had an expiration date of 1988.

The water diversion battles fought by Nestlé – and, now, BlueTriton – have been brewing for years. State officials released a report on Nestlé’s water harvesting in 2017 and a revised report last week. The two said the company was diverting more water than was allowed, which the company denies.

“This investigation took a long time, and it took several years due to its complexity, both from a technical and legal standpoint,” said Robert Cervantes, a supervising engineer at the State Water Board. .

“We just want BlueTriton to comply with California law,” he said, “especially now that we’re heading into another drought.”

Water Board officials say BlueTriton is only allowed to collect about 2.4 million gallons of surface water from the region each year. This restriction applies to water from streams and streams, as well as sources that contribute to streams and streams – not water that percolates underground.

The company said it collected 59 million gallons from the water system last year, of which about 40 million gallons of overflow were returned to the area.

Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has been involved in similar battles over water harvesting in other states, including Florida and Michigan.

Critics of the company say its efforts to drain natural water supplies for bottling have been a waste, and the bottles themselves contribute to plastic waste. For at least last year, the company has been planning to sell most of its bottled water business in the United States and Canada. The sale and name change of Nestlé Waters North America is part of this logic.

Water siphoned from California streams is depleting the natural environment in an area already prone to water shortages and wildfires, Mr. O’Heaney said. The draft cease-and-desist letter sent to BlueTriton last week was an important step, he said, although it cannot yet be formally implemented.

“I hope this is a wake-up call for them,” he said, “that the company they just bought is not viewed in a positive light by the communities in which it operates. “

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