California’s water board has approved a cease-and-desist order against ex-Nestlé bottled-water manufacturer BlueTriton Brands.

Regulators today (20 September) blocked the beverage company from diverting millions of gallons of water from springs in the Strawberry Creek watershed in San Bernadino county.

The spring has been used for the Arrowhead spring-water brand, owned by BlueTriton Brands, for over 100 years.

According to a report from Bloomberg, the State Water Resources Control Board voted unanimously to restrict how much water BlueTriton Brands can funnel away from the Strawberry Creek watershed through tunnels and other transportation methods. It does not ban the company from taking water from the area entirely.

The order will come into effect on 1 November.

In a statement sent to Just Drinks, BlueTriton Brands said it was “disappointed” by the ruling and would “vigorously defend our water rights through available legal process”.

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The spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB’s) approval of the Administrative Hearing Office’s Cease and Desist Order regarding BlueTriton Brand’s groundwater rights in Strawberry Canyon.

“This order marks a radical departure from express statutory limitations and existing judicial and SWRCB precedent concerning the SWRCB’s water right permitting authority over groundwater. 

“This ruling creates water rights uncertainty and negatively impacts every water agency and farmer in California that relies on groundwater, and in doing so, indirectly harms every Californian. 

“BTB will vigorously defend our water rights through the available legal process. BTB continues to comply with all state and federal laws as they apply to our water rights in California. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the local communities near our operations.”

Winding asphalt road in the hills of the California wilderness of San Bernadino National Forest, where BlueTriton sources water
The San Bernadino National Forest, California. Credit: kenkistler / Shutterstock

“I understand a huge amount of money and business is at stake,” board member Laurel Firestone is quoted by Associated Press as saying at the hearing today. “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.”

It follows a years-long legal battle between BlueTriton Brands, formerly the US and Canada subsidiary of Nestlé Waters, activists and residents.

In an open letter to California State Water Resources Control Board in support of the cease-and-desist order, campaigners wrote: “Simply put, one cannot sell what it does not own. And BlueTriton Brands does not own, nor does it hold a right to, the water in Strawberry Creek.”

They added: “Despite BlueTriton Brands’ claims to the contrary, the water board is well within its authority to regulate the BlueTriton Brands diversions in the San Bernardino National Forest; neither BlueTriton nor its predecessor companies perfected any pre-1914 water right.”

BlueTriton Brands was formerly the US and Canada subsidiary of Nestlé Waters, which was acquired by One Rock Capital Partners and Metropoulos & Co. in 2021.

Its other water brands include Poland Spring, Deer Park, Ozarka and Ice Mountain.