Forest Service Official Who Let Nestle Drain California Water Now Works for Them

August 13, 2015   |   Claire Bernish

Claire Bernish
August 13, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) San Bernardino National Forest — An ongoing investigation by The Desert Sun into Nestle’s contentious bottled water operations in drought-stricken California first disclosed that the company’s permit to draw water had a rather astonishing expiration date that occurred over a quarter century ago, in 1988. Recently, the Sun reported an update in the investigation with a jaw-dropping twist: the Forest Service — not Nestle — is the agency primarily responsible for failing to renew Nestle’s permit.

In fact, judging by the government agency’s complete inability to even review Nestle’s long-expired permit — not to mention the lucrative job a retired Forest Service supervisor currently enjoys — there is an arguable case that collusion and corruption are at the heart of the entire issue.

Forest Service officials shirked their duty to review the company’s long-expired permit by conducting numerous meetings about what was needed t0 initiate necessary procedures — but never once followed through with a single proposition to completion. Even the basic legality of allowing a private company to use federal land for the extraction and bottling of water for profitable sale was once called into question by several officials.

Letters, emails, and meeting notes clearly mark a number of instances where the review process and various studies of the environmental impact from continued collection of the spring water were initiated between 1999 and 2003 — but not followed up by any action. In fact, nothing in these documents offers definitive answers for the inexplicable lack of action on every aspect of the Arrowhead permit. Forest Service officials have given plenty of excuses — citing everything from a tight budget to limited staffing — for the reason other concerns were given priority.

“The whole process of reauthorizing a permit can be pretty rigorous, and we just didn’t have the money or the budget or the staff to do that,” explained Gene Zimmerman, who had the role of forest supervisor at that time. “We were never able to budget to do that kind of work on the scale it needed to be done.”

Nestle Claims it has Water Rights — And Its Yes-Man Agrees

During a meeting in 1997, Forest Service officials informed David Palais of Nestle that they had made an inquiry with the state water board to confirm the company’s water rights to Arrowhead Springs.

For those unfamiliar with that term, California and much of the West use a seniority-based property rights model for water resources — but those who hold rights simply own the right to use the water, not the water, itself. The California Water Resources Control Board website states, “A water right is a legal entitlement authorizing water to be diverted from a specified source to be put to beneficial and non-wasteful use.”

Nestle maintains that its water rights are valid, and Zimmerman continues to back up this claim.

Gary Earney, who was responsible for administering permits, told Palais they would determine proof of Nestle’s water rights within the year (1997), and if not, “we would be significantly down the road in an environmental process that would eventually determine whether we would either re-issue the permit (with take limits) or would deny such use and force removal of all current improvements.” According to the Sun, Earney claimed in an interview that “the issue of removing water without proper monitoring bothered [him].”

Though a lawsuit filed by an environmental activist in 2000 over Nestle’s “illegal extraction” of water from a national forest was mostly dismissed in court the following year, an appeal was filed over some lingering issues.

RELATED: Nestle And Walmart Continue To Pillage California’s Water Supply

In December 2002, Palais emailed Zimmerman to ask if he would “sign a statement or Declaration basically acknowledging that you know about our water collection facilities, that we are not doing anything ‘clandestinely’ . . . that we have and continue to act within the spirit and intent of the (special use permit) and that we both acknowledge that Arrowhead is in the process of renewing the (permit).”

Zimmerman obliged and signed a letter on January 9, 2003 to Palais stating that although the 1976 permit“expired on Aug. 2, 1988, I have allowed Arrowhead’s occupancy of National Forest land to continue until the permit can be re-issued, based on its continued adherence to the terms of that permit, and its payment of the required annual fee.

The Big Hassle of Permit Review

A meeting of a team of six Forest Service officials at a ranger station in 2003 came closest to an actual review of Nestle’s permit. Notes from the meeting show plans had been made to go over the company’s records and create a course of action for the “Arrowhead Water Project” the following fiscal year.

But nothing ever came of it.

Steve Loe is a biologist who attended that meeting. He explained, as reported in The Desert Sun, that Nestle had been pushing for the review for some time, but the full scope of energy and expense the process was going to require seemed daunting to officials who “made a big deal of it” during the meeting.

“It should have been dealt with then,” said Loe, but “I think it was more convenient for Nestle and the Forest Service to not take action on that permit.” From that point on, Nestle representatives “didn’t continue to ask for that, and the Forest Service didn’t push them. It just died after that meeting.”

[UPDATE: While Zimmerman claimed that the permit process was too troublesome to address Nestle’s claim over the Arrowhead water, that didn’t stop the Forest Service from scrutinizing hundreds of cabin owners’ water permits in the area. In fact, dozens of cabin owners were denied their renewal and were instead forced to install water tanks on their properties and truck water in.]

Why Bother With a Permit When You’re a Darn Good Steward of the Land?

During his stint as supervisor, Zimmerman said he remembered discussing permit renewal with Nestle managers.

“We just said we couldn’t get to it with our workload and our budget and our staff that we had, especially when they were being what all of us agreed were pretty darn good stewards of the land,” said Zimmerman.

He should know.

Along with Nestle’s natural resource manager, Larry Lawrence, Zimmerman is a long time member of the board for the nonprofit Southern California Mountains Foundation. Zimmerman played a key role in helping launch the foundation — which is dedicated to youth initiatives and programs focused on the national forest — back in 1993.

And don’t forget who happens to be the foundation’s most noteworthy longtime donor — Nestle.

Shocking to absolutely no one, on the foundation’s 20th anniversary in 2013, the Zimmerman Community Partnership Award — so named for Zimmerman’s efforts “to create a public/private partnership for resource development and community engagement” — was presented to Arrowhead.

Not so coincidentally, Zimmerman, who retired in 2005, has since found gainful employment — as a paid consultant for Nestle.

Nestle Knows What Constitutes a “Spring” — Does it Matter to Them?

About two dozen water scientists and experts joined several top Nestle executives recently in a Beverly Hills hotel for a dinner and discussion to brainstorm new solutions for dealing with California’s drought-induced water crisis. Hosted by The Atlantic and underwritten by Nestle, dialogue focused on topics such as increasing water recycling and adjustments in pricing with conservation in mind. Informal question and answer sessions with the executives followed the main event.

Tim Brown, Chairman, CEO, and President of Nestle Waters North America, explained that the Food and Drug Administration’s role in  regulating bottled water means companies that wish to use terms such as “spring water”for their product are held to strict guidelines without exception.

“Our FDA regulations define spring water as groundwater that reaches the surface on its own, and so for us to be able to meet that definition, the aquifer has to be performing that way,” explained Brown. “On any given day, if the flow is low enough that it wouldn’t meet the FDA definition of spring water, that’s when we would restrict flow. If there’s any other defined set of conditions that lead to an agreed up restriction of flow, we would follow those terms and conditions.”

RELATED: Nestle Being Sued for $100 Million Dollars Over Hazardous Lead in Food

Clearly, Brown knows precisely what the FDA expects from Nestle for the company to continue using “spring” in the title of its Arrowhead bottled water — but what the company understands to the letter in a public setting isn’t representative of the “shades of gray” reality of its operations.

Do As We Eloquently Say, Not As We Covertly Do

Loe and Earney have also since retired,  but — as if consciously choosing the antithetic to Zimmerman’s adopted “yes-man” consultant role — the pair have called for long overdue environmental impact studies to begin and for the Forest Service to freeze Nestle’s water extraction until further notice.

A journalist from the Sun hiked with them through the national forest to the spot where a stone bunker with metal doors juts out from the side of a mountain — the site where Nestle draws water for Arrowhead. This is also the site where Brown’s knowledge of a “spring” begins to take on the appearance of smug diversionary mollification.

Nestle taps water from four wells at this site that were drilled horizontally into the mountain — but this arrangement is a far cry from the FDA’s “spring” requirements, which the company claims adherence to.

“That’s their goal, is capturing all the groundwater,” Loe warned. “There may have been a spring here, but not four separate springs all coming together.”


This is the first in our series of investigations into Nestle’s role in extracting massive amounts of groundwater in California during the record drought. The second in this two-part series will delve further into Nestle’s exploitation of California’s diminishing fresh water supply to extract profit, no matter the cost. Make sure you don’t miss the rest of this series! Subscribe to our newsletter here.

This article (Forest Service Official Who Let Nestle Drain California Water Now Works for Them) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Claire Bernish and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, emailedits@theantimedia.org.

Claire Bernish joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in May of 2015. Her topics of interest include social justice, police brutality, exposing the truth behind propaganda, and general government accountability. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Ohio. Learn more about Bernish here!

Author: Claire Bernish

Claire Bernish joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in May of 2015. Her topics of interest include thwarting war propaganda through education, the refugee crisis & related issues, 1st Amendment concerns, ending police brutality, and general government & corporate accountability. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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  2. Nestle is yet another despicable corporation that seeks to externalize the cost of their business on the rest of the taxpayers. These sorts of corporations are the worst problem we face on the planet right now. They are devils!

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  3. I really do not understand the logical thought with these major corporations.. I mean sure they'll reap in millions from ravaging the environment.. but what happens when there are no more resources left to ravage? From a business perspective, they'd just go out of business. Seems so wreckless

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  4. Ignorant comments by ignorant people. Hack journalism and uninformed people eat it up.

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  7. Hack journalism, how? Do tell. You offer nothing but ad hominem attack, and considering there are no facts lacking here, I have to wonder the cause for such an empty accusation. Would you care to offer evidence? Or is this just a drive-by?

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  8. Peter Brabeck CEO of Nestle, just said that water is not a human right, he said this to convince voters to force their elected leaders to add royalties to water extraction, this would have the effect of having water declaired a commodity, trade provisions would kick in and then they could really open up the taps and drain as much as they wanted.even in a drought Nestle has over 2,000 products I am sure we could do without any of them !

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  11. Shane Banks, I'm always open to the other side of the story if it is supported by facts. Can you back up your statements with the truth?

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  12. These days companies live quarterly. If the source isn't dying within a few quarters then who caress. They just need to make maximum profit for investors at any cost. When the source stops they'll find another source to exploit. If EU doesn't stop TTIP this shit is going to spread even faster and further.

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  13. Zimmerman and Nestle execs should be dragged into the street by THE PEOPLE and treated as the thieving fascists they are.

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  14. I am no fan of Nestle, nor of the botted water industry. But this article is just a bunch of gobbledygook. Nestle owns the water rights to Arrowhead spring. That means they own the right to use the water and to divert the water in order to use it. It is a private property right that is secured through state of California and the local county's watermaster. The permit that this article fixates on is not a permit to extract the water. It is merely a permit for egress, which allows Nestle to transport the water through a pipeline across the public land administered by the US Forest Service. Its the same one you own any private property that is within the forest boundary, and you want to do any commercial hauling on a public road that goes through public land. The private property owner has to get a permit to haul logs or mining ore or gravel or whatever. It's a simple egress permit. There is no legal justification to deny the permit because you don't like the extraction activity. The only environmental impact study that would be relevant would be the impact of the pipeline across public land, and it would be pretty hard to show that water flowibg through a pipe poses any sort of environmental hazard.

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  15. Christie Gabriel Millette … wrong, how so?? Everything I wrote is quite accurate and factual. If you don't understand how water rights or property rights work, or who has jurisdiction over such matters, you should ask someone who does. The article (and many commenters) just don't seem to understand the legal issues at play. The federal government (and particularly the US Forest Service) has nothing to do with water rights or regulating the use of ground or in-stream water. Water (ground water and flowing water) is the property of the State of California. A water right is a private property right that is secured by filing a claim on the use of that water, and then regulated by State law and the county watermaster. In this case, Nestle either filed for or purchased the water rights to Arrowhead Springs. They own the right to use that water–PERIOD. You can't just take someone's property away because you don't like how they use it or how profitable it is for them. And it certainly does not matter whether the spring is located on public or private land or within the national forest, for that matter because the water flowing from that spring is the property of the State of California. The state of California has exclusive jurisdiction over the water, and state law govern's the establishment of water rights and the regulation of them. The Forest Service permit in question (that has been lapsed for years) has nothing to do with the actual extraction or use of the water from the spring; the permit is merely for egress–e.g. for the transportation of the water via pipeline across public land. As I mentioned, it would be the same situation if a cement company owned a gravel pit (their private property), and the road out of the gravel pit crossed through the national forest–in this sutuation, the gravel pit operators would have to obtain a commercial haul permit to transport their gravel on that forest service road. You might not like the fact that the gravel company extracts gravel from their pit, but you can not use that sentiment to justify denying them a haul permit to use an otherwise public road–their use of the road is the limit of the permit, and the limit of any reason to deny the permit. In the case of Nestle and Arrowhead Springs, the only environmental impact study that the forest service might need to conduct to renew the permit is the environmental impact that the construction and use of the pipeline might have on the public land–and as I say, it is pretty hard to argue that flowing water in a pipe poses much of an environmental hazard. Again, I am no fan of Nestle, and I think the bottled water indisury as a whole is just plain stupid and an unnecessary waste of resources. This article just does a horrendous job of explaining the issues and the facts..

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  16. Who gave the "water rights" to any government??
    Every human being or animal, even plants have equal "rights" to the waters on our planet. THROW THIS UNCONSCIONABLE IDIOT OUT OF THE WATER BUSINESS. In fact, should there really even be a "water business"??? They don't own it, WE THE PEOPLE DO!

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  17. Nick Sheedy has it correct. Water rights are run by the states. In California, the state Constitution spells out the basics in Article 10 Water. California, unlike some other states, the owner of a water right can petition to change it to instream flow for benefit of fish and wildlife. While we can all question whether this system is right or fair, the basic legal underpinnings are set in the state Constitution.

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  18. The reason for this would be obvious for anyone – besides the diversity-promoted bunch currently populating the forest service – who worked long enough for the federal gov't. (it would go over the heads of the diversity bunch).

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  19. “The whole process of reauthorizing a permit can be pretty rigorous, and we just didn’t have the money or the budget or the staff to do that,” explained Gene Zimmerman, who had the role of forest supervisor at that time. “We were never able to budget to do that kind of work on the scale it needed to be done.”
    WHAT A CROCK OF DOO! BUT YOU FOUND TIME TO MAKE SURE ALL THE RESIDENTS IN THE AREA WERE UP TO DATE ON THEIR PERMITS. ZIMMERMAN IS SEMI WORKING FOR NESTLE NOW AS A SPOKESMAN, ANOTHER CROCK, OBVIOSLY HIS PAYOFF IN THE GUISE OF SPOKESMAN. I WONDER WHAT THOSE PAYCHECKS LOOK LIKE!!!!!!!!!

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