Environmental groups sue Nestle over federal permit

Three environmental groups have sued international food giant Nestle for taking water from a spring in the San Bernardino Mountains, using a federal permit they allege expired almost 30 years ago.  

Nestle is one of the world's biggest water bottling companies with several facilities in California. Despite the fact Nestle uses 750 million gallons of California water a year, environmentalist Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute says that's really not the issue.

"The amount of water in question that Nestle is bottling isn't, by itself, a huge amount of water. The question is, what's the effect of taking that water out of the National Forest? And we don't know," said Gleick.

But he adds that we should find out: "It might be a lot of water for this watershed. the problem is, nobody's asked the question: Should this permit be renewed?"

For its part, Nestle says its permit is in full force and effect because long ago, it filed for an extension. Under federal law, the permit stays in effect until the government acts on it, which it has not. 

The simple fact is that there's no way that there could be such a great diversity of brands, styles and even flavors of water if consumers didn't absolutely demand it and are willing to pay a huge premium over tap water for it.

"I only buy sparkling water because it's a replacement for soda; it seems a little healthier," said Tracy Livezey a consumer KTVU talked to at Oakland's Village Market.

But, many consumers won't pay that premium.

"Actually I don't buy bottled water because I feel like the water we have here in the East Bay is of high quality and that's unnecessary," said shopper Diane Ambrose.

Combined, California's 110 water bottlers use 3.1 billion gallons of water from springs and streams to public utilities.

That's less than 5 percent of the water in Eastbay MUD's Camanche Reservoir, one reservoir out of more than 200. And Camanche isn't even in the 15 largest reservoirs.

To demonstrate the cost difference, a 16.9 ounce bottle of water at a major grocery store costs 89 cents. For the same money, consumers can get 1,680 times more water from the Eastbay Municipal Utilities District.. 

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