In the midst of a historic drought, Nestle bottled approximately 68,000 gallons of water from California's San Bernardino National Forest every day last year. It paid only an annual fee of $524 for the privilege. Oh, and its permit to do so expired 27 years ago. The Desert Sun reports three environmental groups sued the US Forest Service Tuesday for allowing Nestle to continue drawing water without a valid permit. "It’s this whole privatization of public resources and profiteering off the stuff that all of us are supposed to own collectively,” says the executive director of the Courage Campaign Institute, one of the groups suing the Forest Service. The environmental groups don't believe Nestle's activities would be allowed if the permit—issued in 1978—had been forced to go through a modern environmental review process, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Forest Service claims it hasn't reviewed Nestle's old permit because it's been busy with other things and lacks the funding, the Sun reports. But it did let Nestle rebuild a damaged pipeline in 2003. The official who allowed that has since retired from the Forest Service to join Nestle as a paid consultant. The Forest Service announced in August that it would be starting the renewal process for Nestle's permit, but it's letting Nestle use the old permit in the meantime and has given no firm date for when the renewal process will actually take place. According to the Times, environmentalists claim Nestle's removal of water from the San Bernardino National Forest is threatening the habitats of birds, fish, snakes, and frogs. Nestle has five bottling plants in California and uses about 705 million gallons of the state's water per year. (Read more water stories.)