Ruling: Nestlé can continue to pump water out of CA National Forest on expired-since-1988 permit

The bottle makes that water taste fancy!

Federal Judge Jesus G. Bernal says that the lapsed permit from 1988 that has allowed Nestlé water-bottling rights in the San Bernardino Mountains for $524 a year the last 27 years is not the grounds for stopping the bottling giant’s continued pumping of water out of the drought-stricken San Bernardino Mountains.

With the ruling, federal Judge Jesus G. Bernal rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that the Forest Service had broken federal procedures in allowing Nestlé to remove water from the remote West Fork of Strawberry Creek, which is located above San Bernardino.

The decision is related to a lawsuit filed in October 2015 by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Story of Stuff Project and The Courage Campaign, claiming that the Forest Service made errors in allowing Nestlé Waters North America to maintain pipelines, pumps and other structures in the San Bernardino National Forest for 28 years after its permit expired.

Bernal wrote in his decision that Nestlé’s predecessor had reached out to have their permit re-upped and never got a response. Indeed, the lapse in response time is the result of a backlog and insufficient oversight on the part of the National Forest Service. As a result, Nestlé shouldn’t be punished for this.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015, demanded that the Forest Service halt Nestle’s use of wells and piping in the forest. Plaintiffs, including the Center for Biological Diversity, argued that because the permit had expired years ago, the Forest Service had illegally allowed the company to continue taking water. Environmentalists also worry Strawberry Creek will dry up.

“The court has just confirmed what many Americans fear, massive corporations play by a different set of rules than the rest of us,” said Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the Courage Campaign Institute, another plaintiff, in a news release. “Nestlé has been pulling a fast one for nearly 30 years, taking a public resource, depriving plants and animals of life-sustaining water, and selling that water at an obscene profit without the right to do so, but apparently our justice system is OK with that.”

As The Desert Sun who broke the story last year explains, the National Forest Service was underfunded and completely in bed with Nestlé could never muster the proper motivation to conduct the much-needed review of a permit that had made sense in 1978.

Gene Zimmerman, the forest supervisor who was in charge at the time, retired in 2005. He now does paid consulting work for Nestle.

Zimmerman has said he doesn’t see any conflict in working for Nestle in his retirement. And he has cited some of the same reasons the Forest Service has given for not reviewing the permit.

“The whole process of reauthorizing a permit can be pretty rigorous, and we just didn’t have the money or the budget or the staff to do that,” Zimmerman said in an interview in April. “We were never able to budget to do that kind of work on the scale it needed to be done.”

According to The Desert Sun, these kinds of “convenient” problems continued to come up. One example is when someone assigned to lead a team to review the permit was transferred to another park, submerging the Nestlé permit problem to the bottom of the priorities list. But don’t worry, the National Forest Service isn’t completely corrupt, they’re just choked for funding. Who should we blame? There are some crap Democrats involved in the selling off of our public lands, but it’s mostly the Republican Party. You didn’t think Cliven Bundy and his crew of pawns were independently wealthy, did you?

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