The California drought crisis has brought to the fore the issue of extended permits being given to corporations that pull water out of pristine environmental areas to sell as bottled water. The first likely casualty in this regard may turn out to be Nestle Waters that pulled water from springs and streams in Strawberry Creek in the mountains north of San Bernadino. Nestle also obtains water from the Cucamonga Valley Water District, which draws water from Deer Canyon springs in the national forest. This permission had originally expired in 1994.
However, the U.S. Forest Service has been found wanting in its duties of periodic review of corporate permits before granting extensions to them. Nestle’s permit to pull water out and transport it across the San Bernadino National Forest had expired way back in 1988, but the company continued its water exploitation on the basis of the extension of its permits.
It is not that the permits cannot be renewed or the extension of it is illegal. A permit can be renewed under the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, but such permits are to be granted only after a thorough assessment and due diligence of the impact of a corporate activity. This process usually takes up anything between 18-24 months.
Now with the drought situation looming over the heads of governmental officers, Federal officials have swung into action and have started examining these extended-expired permits. Since, the assessment process will be lengthy; officials are contemplating ‘interim’ measures that may include a moratorium on the extraction of water.
The Agency apart from granting permits and assessing renewal requests is also tasked with the obligation of conducting periodic environmental reviews in order to study the environmental impact of water extraction. However, the forest service has said that traditionally the agency doesn’t track the amounts of water as it was always the responsibility of the state to track water use.