Vermont in the New England region of the northeastern part of the country, is one such. Daniel Antonovich, a businessman with plans to bottle and sell about 250,000 gallons a day from a spring in East Montpelier finds himself stumped.
The idea makes his neighbors nervous. Like two-thirds of Vermonters and 40 percent of all New Englanders, most residents of East Montpelier depend on wells for their water.
In March, the town of East Montpelier postponed any bottling for three years. Three months later, the Vermont legislature approved a measure making the state's groundwater a public trust. Beginning in 2010, anyone seeking to pump more than 57,600 gallons a day will need a permit, with exceptions for farms, water utilities, fire districts and some geothermal systems.
Some worry that a water-bottling operation will compromise their ability to shower and flush; others just do not want their local water sold elsewhere.
In corners of Vermont, once-reliable well-water supplies have become intermittent in recent years, with homeowners blaming local developers or mining operations or a bottling operation, writes Felicity Barringer in New York Times.
Aquifers have been drawn down around Chicago, Milwaukee and Atlanta. Water had to be trucked into the northern Vermont town of Montgomery last summer during a drought.
"Water is the resource of the 21st century," said Laurence R. Becker, Vermont's state geologist. "The amount of water that we use will increase, and we will be looking for fresh water in many places."
With the growing recognition that groundwater is not limitless, more states and localities are looking for ways to protect it. Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Hampshire are at the forefront of this trend, and Vermont is now making its move.
The concerns of East Montpelier residents are reflected in the Great Lakes Resources compact, a broad water-management agreement already approved by the United States Senate and by nine states and two Canadian provinces.
New York Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Pete Grannis said in March last : "The Great Lakes are among America's greatest natural resources and they must be protected from excessive demands. The compact is an integral tool that will establish proper management practices and standards so that the benefits these waters provide will continue to be available for future generations."
"Public policy makers are wrestling with legal systems designed in an era of abundance," said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation. "They were not designed to address shortages."
Virginia Lyons, a Democratic state senator in Vermont, believes that, given the possibility of a future in which water supplies may be constrained, "we've been doing things in an irrational way."
"We make the assumption that just because you get so many gallons out of a well now, you will forever," Ms. Lyons said.
The new Vermont law notwithstanding, there are still few restrictions on using groundwater, but the new system is designed to help map it, measure it and apportion it. It puts home and farm uses of water at the front of the line in case of shortages and makes large-scale withdrawals, like those envisioned by Antonovich, who owns the land where the spring emerges, subject to new permits and monitoring.
Though Vermont is a relative latecomer in adopting a public-trust status for groundwater, Maude Barlow, a Canadian crusader against bottled water and the author of "Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water" (New Press, 2008), argues that its new law, more than most of the others, anticipates the day when demand for groundwater outstrips supply.
"It's no longer an under-the-radar issue," said Jon Groveman, the general counsel of the Vermont Natural Resources Council. "There is now a sense that groundwater is finite and needs to be protected."
Antonovich, a furrier in the New York area who has been vacationing in Vermont for half a century, said he did not plan to contest the three-year moratorium.
said he believed that the Vermont law could produce fairer and more comprehensive results when done before a crisis, or "we'll be trying to change our water laws in the context that the West is now."
"There is no water and they're trying to apportion droplets," he said of the West. "They're in the terrible position of trying to judge between needs that are all critical with not enough resources."