Steve Rowell



In 1988, a permit issued by the US Forest Service to Arrowhead Puritas Waters Inc. for the extraction of spring water from the San Bernardino Mountains expired. Despite the expired permit, Nestle Waters of North America (owner of Arrowhead Puritas Waters, Inc.) has continued to pay the annual usage fee of $524 for unlimited water extraction. The millions of gallons from the small springs which once fed Strawberry Creek is transported by truck to their Ontario and Morongo plants where it is bottled and taken to distribution points across the state. When water is tapped without a permit, proper oversight and monitoring evaporates.

Even less is known about Nestlé’s operation on Morongo Reservation land – how much water is taken from the mountain springs, access fees paid to the tribal council, millions of gallons bottled. Since the Morongo Reservation is sovereign land, federal and state scrutiny (and regulation) doesn’t necessarily apply. Retail prices for a single half-liter (16.9 oz) ranges up to $2 per bottle. While the bottled water industry is only a fraction of the percentage of water use and waste in urban applications and pales in comparison to the billions of gallons used in California’s agricultural areas, the existence of any bottled water presence during this unprecedented and catastrophic drought begs the question: Should the citizens of California allow global conglomerates such as Nestlé to profit from our most precious and increasingly limited natural resource?

Premiere: October 26-November 15, 2015
Shanahan Center Gallery, Harvey Mudd College (HMC)

The installation version of this project investigates the spatial conditions around this issue and coincides with a commissioned tour, Arrowhead Fountainhead, which occurred on October 24, 2015. That tour and this project deals, in general, with the issue of drought in California, and more specifically, with sites on the landscape which represent controversial exploitation of public water resources. Rather than an exhaustive survey of the state, or even Southern California, this installation focuses on specific sites and contexts in the San Bernardino Valley and environs which evoke the larger issue. Also featured are two remote sites – Desert Shores at the evaporating Salton Sea and the Zzyzx abandoned health spa deep in the Mojave Desert – which simultaneously serve as relics of an optimistic past as well as omens of a future landscape of drought and squandered resources.

Single channel 4K aerial drone video downsampled to HD with two channel audio, 19 minutes (looping), inkjet prints (3D satellite images) yellow cordage, T-pins, active PA speakers, projector, pedestals.