Landowners, Environmentalists Go At It In The Bottled-Water War

via Liberty Matters


IDYLLWILD, Calif. - As its name suggests, this mountain hamlet more than 5,000 feet above the desert floor near Palm Springs is endowed with many gifts of nature: centuries-old pines, rare and endangered species, bucolic lakes and stunning vistas.

But it is what lies beneath that has taken center stage recently: A battle is being waged over spring water and whether it is a commodity to sell or a resource to protect.

For Paul Black, a retiree whose Idyllwild Mountain Spring Water Works Inc. has been selling water to bottlers from his property here for nearly seven years, the issue is one of practicality.

"I see a very effective use of the water," said Black, who Riverside County officials estimate is taking 28,000 gallons of it a day from his parcel of slightly more than an acre. "It's safe, clean drinking water. Would you let it go, or would you do something with it?"

But Black has his share of opponents, residents of the area who have hired lawyers in a determined effort to put an end to his operation. They accuse him of failing to do required environmental studies and operating without the proper permits, and note that he has long engaged in a commercial venture on property zoned residential.

"People come here to see flowing creeks and forests and alpine animals and birds," said one opponent, Chuck Stroud, a board member of the local Mountain Resources Conservancy. "These are all intrinsic to the vitality of our community."

The natural springs, Stroud argues, are part of an intricate network of resources that help support the area's environmental balance, particularly in times of drought, as now. That drought, coupled with an infestation of beetles, is decimating cedars and pines, leaving huge brown swaths on the mountainsides.

While it may not be as lucrative as oil or gas, bottled water is enjoying a craze that is opening new doors for property owners sitting on natural springs. Consumption of bottled water in the United States has more than doubled in a decade, to some 5.9 million gallons in 2002 from about 2.5 million in 1992, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp., consultants to the beverage industry.

"If you look at the volume of bottled water being sold right now," said Kassie Siegel, a staff lawyer with the conservationist Center for Biological Diversity, "it comes as no surprise there are commercial enterprises seeking out all possible sources to exploit."


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