In every bottle, a creek…

February 2, 2017 § 4 Comments


Next to the snow-covered mountain on each Arrowhead bottle, is a list of “mountain springs” within.

The Arrowhead landmark in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains.

The actual Arrowhead landmark in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains.

In every bottle of water is a creek, and there is actually a good chance it may be a California creek, as the map in this link indicates: “Lots of your bottled water comes from drought zones.”

This is something I think about every day when I walk by the water dispenser at my office. I look at the snowy mountain top on the label, and mentally compare it to the actual Arrowhead landmark, in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, which I drive by each week. This iconic landmark is made of coastal sage scrub plants: white sage, black sage, california buckwheat, and others (Meek, 2007). Ironically, what makes the arrow stand out from the surrounding chaparral is the grey foliage that advertises the ability of these plants to survive drought.

Our remaining native ecosystems hang on a very delicate balance, and surface water and groundwater play an important role in maintaining this balance. This is just one of the reasons I feel alarmed when I see the list of “mountain springs” listed on the side of Arrowhead bottles. Because I suspect the other places on this list do not look anything like the snow-covered mountain on that label!


Steve Loe, a retired San Bernardino National Forest biologist, speaks to a packed house.

Last Sunday, I went to a community hearing sponsored by The League of Women Voters and Save Our Forest Association to learn how Nestlé’s extraction of water from the San Bernardino National Forest impacts Strawberry Creek, its riparian ecosystems, and our local groundwater. Speakers addressed a packed house at the Senior Center in Twin Peaks.

Strawberry Creek is the creek associated with Arrowhead Springs, after which Arrowhead water is named. It is located in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Over the last 68 years, Nestlé extracted an average of 62 million gallons per year from wells drilled into the upper watershed of Strawberry Creek. According to figures presented at the hearing, this is over 5% of the safe yield of the entire San Bernardino Basin, which supplies the cities of San Bernardino, Riverside, Redlands, and others. Even in the midst of a multi-year drought, in 2015, Nestlé extracted 36 million gallons.

Nestlé’s extraction of millions of gallons per year occurred even as residents and businesses were required to restrict their own water usage.

For this amount of water, the company paid only $524 each year. One speaker said this came out to $3.65 per acre-foot of water, which the company then sold for 100,000 times that amount.

36  million gallons extracted in 2015, in the midst of a multi-year drought, means that much water did not make it to the creek. This means all of the plants and animals that once lived in the creek are short that much water.

Loe made it clear that the “mountain springs” of Strawberry Creek are not artesian springs which leap out the ground. Rather, they are horizontal wells drilled over 500 feet deep, maximizing groundwater extraction in the creek’s upper watershed, before water even gets to the creek. The drill sites are so dry that no riparian vegetation appears in their vicinity.

Nestlé claims to only extract water that is in ‘excess’ of the Forest Service’s current and foreseeable needs.

Given the outsized importance of riparian habitats in contributing to local biodiversity and providing regional ecological connectivity,  Loe asked, can one say there is excess water when a creek is close to its lowest flows on record? Species that depend on riparian habitat are at low population levels, and others historically associated with the San Bernardino Mountains, have disappeared. Loe believes Nestlé’s extraction of groundwater was a contributing factor in the disappearance of Santa Ana speckled dace, a native fish species, from the area after 2003.

In a statement by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Story of Stuff, and Courage Campaign Institute, Eddie Kurtz wrote, “The U.S. Forest Service has been enabling [Nestlé] to destroy delicate ecosystems in the San Bernardino National Forest for 27 years, and it has to stop. Our government won’t stand up to them, so we’re taking matters into our own hands.”

List of demands, where "FS" means "Forest Service."

A list of demands. Note that “FS” means “Forest Service.”



The co-sponsors of Sunday’s hearing: League of Women Voters of the San Bernardino Area.

I always love the Desert Sun’s coverage of environmental issues: Bottling Water without Scrutiny.

Meek, N. (2007). Origin of the Arrowhead landmark near San Bernardino, CaliforniaCalifornia Geographical Society.


Found in the San Bernardino Mountains…

Coyote Spring, Inyo County, one of the springs listed on the Arrowhead label.

Coyote Spring, Inyo County, another of the springs listed on the Arrowhead label.


Video: The Story of Bottled Water

March 22, 2010 § 3 Comments

Released for World Water Day, here’s The Story of Bottled Water – a short animated video on what’s so pernicious about all that ubiquitous plastic bottled water. The film is made by the folks who brought us The Story of Stuff, and is narrated by Annie Leonard. 

The solution is to drink tap water, of course, and to get involved in campaigns like Food and Water Watch‘s Take Back The Tap. For more videos on this subject, also watch Tapped, Aguas con el Agua, and The Water Front.

Tapped – Movie Review

August 9, 2009 § 4 Comments

“Bottled water is the greatest advertising and marketing trick of all time”
– from an interview in the movie Tapped

The documentary film Tapped is showing now though this Thursday August 13th in Los Angeles at the Arclight in Hollywood. It’s part of the International Documentary Association‘s 13th Annual DocuWeeks series.  Showtimes rotate each day, so see the schedule of Tapped screenings available at the Arclight website. The film is directed by Stephanie Soechtig.

It’s an excellent documentary, that I enjoyed and recommend. The production values are high – lots of beautiful footage, great soundtrack,  appealing and clear graphics, fun credit sequences, and insightful interviews with many experts, including US Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Robert Bullard, Charles Moore and many others – inlcluding a few industry shills who come off pretty badly.

The film touches on issues of water privatization, environmental impacts, lax regulation, health impacts, bottle bills, but I found that the most compelling case that they make is for the dangers of all that plastic. It’s pretty chilling to hear the stories about bisphenol-A and other toxic chemicals that are in those ubiquitous plastic bottles. Also scary is the story of how common plastic is becoming in our seas and waterways – told well by Charles Moore.  It even includes one of those scary clips of all the floating trash collecting behind the boom on Ballona Creek.

Go see Tapped this week. If you’re interested in getting involved locally in the struggles against bottled water, I’d suggest contacting Food and Water Watch. They run a “Take Back the Tap” campaign, educating consumers that tap water is better for us and better for the environment.  They’re also pushing for state regulations that would mandate that private water companies report how much water they’re extracting from California groundwaters.

Marching for Water

March 23, 2009 § 3 Comments

Youth Doing the Heavy Lifting at the March for Water

Youth Doing the Heavy Lifting at the 2009 March for Water

I had a good time at yesterday’s March for Water. The event was inspired by marches held in various parts of the world in support of the human right to water (including marches shown in the documentary film Flow.) Here’s an event recap and photo essay (apologies again for the blurry cell phone photos!)

My eco-village neighbor and friend Bobby Gadda and I bicycled over to Los Angeles State Historic Park (aka the Cornfields) in a light rain. The rain is great for my garden, and for our creeks and streams, but I was a little worried that it might mean a small turnout at the march.

Gathering at the Cornfields

Gathering at the Cornfields

We arrived at the park and lots of other folks had also braved the rains to participate. Umbrellas and makeshift trash-bag ponchos were the order of the day.

Raul Addressing Families Assembled

Raul Addressing Families Assembled

I checked in and caught up with friends, until Raul Macias drew together the families he organizes through the Anahuak Youth Sports Association. He thanked them for braving the elements and attending

Estamos Listos!

Estamos Listos!

The youth were excited and ready to start marching.

The Crowd Circles as the Dance Begins

The Crowd Circles as the Dance Begins

A large circle formed around the Aztec dancers and drummers. They gave an invocation to the four directions and commenced to dance, which they would continue as they lead the march. The intermittent light rain ceased.

Marching Commences

Marching Commences

The circle parted and the march headed northward along the edge of the cornfields. In the lead are photographers walking backwards, then dancers, then the mass of the march. The clouds part and the sun begins to shine.

Marchers proceeding north, lupines in the foreground, Chiparaki Cultural Center in the background

Marchers proceeding north, lupines in the foreground, Chiparaki Cultural Center in the background

The mass continues along the vivid purples and yellows of the cornfield’s wildflowers in bloom.

Dancers following the Police Escort (The historic Womens' Building in the background)

Dancers following the Police Escort (The historic Womens' Building in the background)

As the procession leaves the park and enters the street, Aztec dancers follow the police escort.

Young Dancer

Dancers Leading the March

Dancing for water.

Marching over the Bridge into Lincoln Heights

Marching into Lincoln Heights

The march made a left onto Spring Street, then crossed the Los Angeles River on the beautiful historic (but threatened) 1927 North Spring Street Bridge, proceeding into Lincoln Heights. Organizers did a good job of keeping the front moving relatively slowly, so that the stragglers in the back could keep up.

Marchers Showing the Water in Their Buckets

Marchers Showing the Water in Their Buckets

Many marchers carried buckets of water. This showed symbolic solidarity with folk in many parts of the world who have to travel by foot each day to get water for their families.

Boyle Heights Chivas in the House!

Boyle Heights Chivas in the House!

The march continued as Spring turns into Broadway and through 5-Points onto Avenue 26. These youth were carrying the banner for Boyle Heights Chivas, whose goalkeeper and I became friends. (I used to be a goalie a long time ago, when I played water polo.)

Melissa and the March

Melissa and Several Hundred of Her Friends

I was happy to run into some of the youth that Jessica and I accompanied on our state water tour last summer. In the foreground of this photo (in the dark blue sweatshirt, looking over her shoulder) is one of these youth: Melissa Castro. She goes to High School in Palmdale, and is a bright and fun person, and an excellent soccer player too. She mentioned that her feet were a little tired from marching, but that it wasn’t too bad.

Drinking Water Filling Station at a Fire Hydrant on Avenue 26

Drinking Water Filling Station at a Fire Hydrant on Avenue 26

The entire event was free from bottled water. Yaaaayyyy! This is no small feat… and really good for the environment. Organizers provided re-usable metal bottles. Along the 3-mile route there were several tap-water filling stations provided by the LA Department of Water and Power. Thanks, LADWP!

Capture Rainwater Not Wildlife

Capture Rainwater Not Wildlife

Participants carried handmade signs. I especially liked this slogan “Capture Rainwater Not Wildlife” as I capture rainwater in my garden.

Front of the March

Front of the March

Here’s another shot of the front of the march, with banners and signs. I was able to bike out ahead of the march as do a count as it headed up Figueroa and turned left onto Cypress Avenue. It was a quick count, probably not all that accurate, but I counted about 750 marchers.

March ending into Taylor Yard

March ending into Taylor Yard

The march ultimately turned left and made its way into the new Rio De Los Angeles State Park at Taylor Yard, the first 40-acres of a planned 100+acre Los Angeles River park there.

California Sunflower at Rio De Los Angeles State Park

California Sunflower at Rio De Los Angeles State Park

While things were getting set up (and blown down) I got a chance to ride around the park. The bright colors of the wildflowers at Rio De Los Angeles Park…

Corner Kick at Rio De Los Angeles State Park

Corner Kick at Rio De Los Angeles State Park

…matched the bright colors of the jerseys of the folks there playing soccer.

Councilmember Reyes Speaking

Councilmember Reyes Speaking

The many excellent speakers at the end included Los Angeles City Councilmember Ed Reyes, State Senator Fran Pavley, Department of Water and Power General Manager David Nahai, City Public Works Commissioner Paula Daniels and representatives from the Winnemem Wintu, who came down from Northern California to join us (which makes plenty of sense, because that’s where we import a lot of our water from.) Organizations presenting included Urban Semillas, Anahuak Youth Sports Organization, the Southern California Watershed Alliance, Food and Water Watch, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Green LA Coalition, Friends of the Los Angeles River, and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. Speakers tied together various topics including water conservation, global warming, reconnecting our communities with our rivers, and organizing and involving our youth. Winnemum Wintu elder Calleen Sisk-Franco invoked our relationship with our wild salmon, stating “without them, there won’t be us.”

Ollin takes the Stage

Ollin Takes the Stage

The weather became windier and cloudier as the Irish-Mexican music of Ollin rounded out the program.

Bobby and I rode home with Alex Kenefick and Ramona Marks on the access road along Taylor Yard, enjoying the windy sunny weather and the herons, cormorants and coots in the L.A. River.

Kudos to all of the folks who played big roles in making this event a great success. Here are a few that I actually got decent photos of:



Raul Macias,

Renee (left) with Claire of Amigos de los Rios

Renee (left) with Claire of Amigos de los Rios

Renee Maas,



and the inimitable Miguel Luna!

A state water tour – seeing where our water comes from

August 13, 2008 § 1 Comment

The problem...and the solution?

LA Creek Freak may have been silent this past week, but hardly on recess.  Joe Linton and I were fortunate to be invited to join Miguel Luna and his Urban Semillas/Agua University kids on a statewide water tour.  In fact, Joe is still touring with the kids – I had to end my share of the fun early.  Miguel’s purpose:  to show kids how water travels from distant sources to LA (where most of our water comes from), and the impacts our consumption has on those sources.  He gave each of us a water spout, a symbol of both the problem and the solution.  

For some of the kids, this was the first time they’d gone camping, and bonding with nature has definitely been part of the experience.  Just two days ago I was watching kids jump onto the top of picnic tables as an overeager baby skunk came out of the bushes to feast on our leftover dinner.  But deeper experiences have also been presented, and made a powerful impression on us all.  We spent a week in the company of the Winnemem Wintu tribe, to whom the waters, landscape and presence of Mt. Shasta are sacred and intimately connected with their existence. We visited the McCloud River with them, heard stories about their lives and culture, and also about the struggles and challenges they face with water and tribal recognition.  

Mc Cloud River Middle Falls

Bottling plants are sending water away from Shasta – at the expense of local groundwater. Last year the tribe’s sacred spring ran dry for the first time in its very long history, and they are concerned that excessive pumping is the cause.  It is easy for us here in LA to not understand, or to forget, that there is more to life than commerce and commodity.  This water is the lifeblood of the Winnemem Wintu, it is precious and priceless. We Angelenos have done our share of unreflectingly pumping springs dry; I stand on the side that says we shouldn’t sacrifice culture for commerce.  

Additionally, the water bond proposed by Dianne Feinstein and Arnold Schwarzeneger would raise Shasta Dam, flooding much of their remaining sacred sites while still not rectifying the loss of the Mc Cloud (and 3 other rivers behind the dam) as salmon spawning grounds (you may have heard that this year-for the first time- California and Oregon fishermen were grounded because there’s simply not enough salmon). The water bond offers little in the way for community input, or a truly integrated approach to sustainable water management while promising more dams and diversions to us (follow this link to page 2 for an example of principles that could improve the bond).    

It was hard to leave such a beautiful place, and such beautiful people, sharpened by the awareness of our impact on their lives.  There will be more blogs on snippets of the experience, as well as missives from Joe, who is spending some time on the American River and then off to Mono Lake with Miguel and the kids.

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