Is Bottled Water Harming California’s Wildlife?

An ongoing debate takes a new turn

Strawberry Creek, California
The mouth of Strawberry Creek, California in 2008.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When perusing the cold drinks aisle of a grocery store or bodega, few options look as inoffensive as bottled water. That’s kind of the point — they don’t abound with calories or artificial ingredients. Instead, it’s water. Sometimes it’s from a spring or other underground water source. (The FDA has a range of official classifications that it utilizes.) But bottled water can be much more contentious than you’d expect, as the ongoing battle over California’s Strawberry Creek — and the company that sources water from it — goes to show.

As Ian James reports at the Los Angeles Times, a number of environmental groups have asked the state to investigate BlueTriton Brands, the company behind Deer Park, Poland Springs and Arrowhead. It’s the last of these that’s been at the center of a controversy for several years; when the New York Times reported on the clash in 2021, the debate had already been raging for several years.

In a letter addressed to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a collection of individuals and nonprofit groups argue that BlueTriton Brands “continues to divert substantially all of the water from Strawberry Canyon, depriving that ecosystem of needed water.” Their petition also states that the ecosystem in Strawberry Canyon was healthier in the 1920s, before infrastructure was put into place to redirect some of the water for bottling purposes.

In the letter, the signatories also content that BlueTriton Brands’ “diversions in Strawberry Canyon are causing habitat fragmentation, preventing the survival of native aquatic life forms, diminishing surface water flow, and resulting in the loss of riparian vegetation.”

The petition, James reports, requests that the agency reopen an earlier investigation and recommends that BlueTriton Brands apply for a permit for their existing infrastructure.

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For their part, BlueTriton Brands contended that it was acting responsibly. “Responsible and proactive water stewardship is central to everything we do,” the company told the Times in a statement. “We’re proud of the work we’ve done and continue to do in Strawberry Canyon, studying, reporting, and managing our operations to help protect the land and natural resources.”

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