A protest group is taking the Canterbury Regional Council and two water bottling companies to court in a battle over water permits.
The bottlers have permission to take 24 million litres of water a day from three bores.
In Christchurch High Court on Tuesday, lawyers argued the validity of the water consents worth millions to bottling companies.
"For the purpose of these proceedings, Aotearoa takes the view that the consents don't provide sufficient scope for commercial water bottling," said Pru Stevens from protest group Aotearoa Water Action.
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The group claims the bores, which were once used by a wool scour and a meatworks, shouldn't be used for bottling water.
The two sites are owned by China-based firm Cloud Ocean Water and Rapaki Natural Resources, both intended for commercial bottling and export.
"Those consents were issued some 20 years ago; they were issued before we understood the effects of climate crisis, and they were never fully utilised," said Peter Richardson from Aotearoa Water Action.
The action group claims Environment Canterbury has bent its own rules to grant further specific consents allowing water bottling.
For Aotearoa Water Group, at the heart of the dispute is whether the two separate companies should be allowed to take the free natural resource of New Zealand water and bottle it to sell it overseas.
The arguments are set to continue for two days, with the judge to decide whether bottled water can be turned into liquid gold.