By Lemor Abrams

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — One of the largest water bottling and snack producers in the country is under fire again in California as Nestle Waters using an expired permit to pump water for its water bottles.

A plant in South Sacramento is one of five plants Nestle operates in California that’s become ground zero in the debate over the company’s water use during the drought. Protesters called the multi-billion dollar beverage producer unethical, for what it pays to pump water out of California’s shrinking groundwater supplies.

“Nestle is paying a pittance in Sacramento to drain an aquifer,” said protester Bob Saunders.

But now, the focus has shifted to an expired water permit in Southern California, which Nestle blames on the U.S. Forest Service.

“We have learned from the forest service that they have made the renewal of our permit a priority,” said Nestle spokeswoman Jane Lazgin.

She says the permit the company has been using to collect springwater from the San Bernardino mountains expired in 1988, but the permit remains in good standing with the forestry service.

“We understand that the forest service has a backlog of permits and they are under-resourced,” she said.

The Forestry Service has yet to comment on a backlog issue.

Activists have gathered 150,000 signatures petitioning the State Water Resources Control Board shut down all Nestle operations.

However, the water board says it doesn’t regulate water bottling operations. Legislation to regulate groundwater usage won’t take effect for a couple of years.

Nestle has five water bottling plants in California, but the company is one of about 100 bottling plants across the state. The water board does not track how much water any of them use.

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