California regulators order Arrowhead bottled water to stop drawing from some mountain springs

Activist Bridger Zadina drinks spring water flowing from a BlueTriton pipe in the San Bernardino National Forest on Monday in San Bernardino, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California regulators on Tuesday ordered the company that owns Arrowhead bottled water to stop using some of the natural springs it has relied on for more than a century, a victory for community groups who have said for years that the practice has drained an important creek that is a habitat for wildlife and helps protect the area from wildfires.

Arrowhead bottled water traces its roots to a hotel at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains that first opened in 1885 and began selling bottled spring water from its basement in 1906. But environmental and community groups say the company has never had permission to take water from the springs, which flow through the San Bernardino National Forest on public lands.


On Tuesday, after eight years of wrangling that included dozens of hearings, the State Water Resources Control Board agreed that BlueTriton — the company that owns the Arrowhead brand — does not have permission to use the water and ordered them to stop. The order does not ban the company from taking any water from the mountain, but it significantly reduces how much it can take.

“I understand a huge amount of money and business is at stake,” board member Laurel Firestone said. “It also is important for us that no matter how much money is involved that we are going to ensure that the laws of our state are upheld and that they apply to everybody.”

BlueTriton Brands issued a statement after the vote indicating it would sue to block the order, vowing to “vigorously defend our water rights through available legal process.”

The case has raised questions about water rights in California at a time when the state is grappling with how to manage the resource in the face of a drier future.

And it’s not the first challenge against bottled water companies, either from consumer advocates or groups fighting against plastic waste. The U.S. Interior Department said earlier this year it would phase out the sale of all plastic water bottles in national parks. Poland Springs, also owned by BlueTriton, has faced lawsuits claiming its water doesn’t come from a spring.

Lawyers for BlueTriton said Tuesday there is ample evidence the company and its predecessors have been using the springs since well before 1914, when the state began regulating how people can use water.

They argue that gives them seniority to use the springs under California’s complex water rights system.

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