FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - Armed with evidence captured by surveillance cameras, California regulators have ordered a business to stop tapping Sierra Nevada spring water that is then bottled and sold in stores.
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Armed with evidence captured by surveillance cameras, California regulators have ordered a business to stop tapping Sierra Nevada spring water that is then bottled and sold in stores.
It would be the first such action taken this year under tight drought restrictions, officials said Wednesday.
Sugar Pine Spring Water, located in the foothills of Tuolumne County, also faces fines of nearly $225,000 for collecting and trucking the water to commercial bottling companies for two consecutive years despite notices to stop, according to the state Water Resources Control Board's proposed sanctions.
In California's fourth year of historic drought, residents statewide are being told to cutback, and thousands of farmers have been notified they must stop using waters as streams and rivers run dry, or face stiff penalties.
This is the first such action that state regulators have taken this year against a firm in the commercial water bottling business, said Kathy Mrowka, the state's water rights enforcement manager.
The state earlier this year proposed a $1.5 million fine against the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District east of the San Francisco Bay Area, accusing it of taking water despite similar drought restrictions. The district is challenging the case.
Springs tapped by Sugar Pine Spring Water feed into the Tuolumne River watershed and drain into New Don Pedro Reservoir. The city of San Francisco and farmers in Turlock and Oakdale irrigation districts rely on the watershed, the complaint says.
Sugar Pine Spring Water was launched in the early 1990s and holds junior water rights, which have been curtailed in 2014 and 2015 because of drought.
Scott Fahey, the owner of Sugar Pine Spring Water, continued to divert water for 170 days in the last two years after being notified no water was available under his rights, the complaint says.
Water captured from four springs is piped to a transfer station and trucked to commercial bottling firms, the complaint says. The firms are not identified in a complaint and Mrowka declined to name them.
Fahey can challenge the state's action before they take effect. Fahey and his attorney, William Barringer, could not be reached immediately for comment.
Officials say that Fahey has refused requests to show state inspectors his operations behind locked gates on a remote road. Investigators mounted surveillance cameras outside the gates, capturing tanker trucks traffic. They reported seeing tanker trucks rumble past them during a 90-minute visit in July to the business to download images from the cameras, the complaint says.
Residents of the Northern California community of Mount Shasta opposed plans earlier this year by Crystal Geyser to tap an aquifer at the base of Mount Shasta. They said it threatened to deplete nearby wells and the aquifer, which feeds headwaters of the Sacramento River.
The firm said there was plenty of water available. State regulators did not intervene.