Maine, CT facing bottled water battles - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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Maine, CT facing bottled water battles

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HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) -

The battle over water is a question rapidly rising in many communities, including in Connecticut.

The question is 'does public drinking water belong to the people or should private companies be able to buy and sell it for a profit.'

In Bloomfield and West Hartford, people were outraged over plans to build a bottling plant. Niagara, which is a national water company, wants to pump millions of gallons from a public reservoir.

But, Connecticut is not alone. There are many states where private companies are making big dollars. Eyewitness News went to Maine where a battle has been waging for years.

Big corporations have found out bottled water is almost better than liquid gold, as they are making lots of money off water. People all over the country are concerned about that and are fighting back.

Poland Spring isn’t interested in what comes out people's taps. They want what’s in the ground, which is some of the purest spring water.

“It’s like someone coming in and extracting water that already belongs to you and profiting off it,” Kelly Ryan, who is a business owner in Maine, said.

That’s exactly what’s happening in Fryeburg, Maine. Ryan owns a natural food store. She and a lot of others in town have been trying to stop it.  

“I think it’s the whole divide and conquer thing. Some people are saying it’s going to create jobs and lower taxes," Ryan said.

Poland Spring has created jobs. The company told Eyewitness News that 800 people work at their bottling plants, neither of which are in Fryeburg. Poland Spring takes their water, but taxpayers don’t get a cent.  

In Maine, there are regulations for the sustainable management of spring water resources in Maine and on plastic weights of bottles.

  1. Natural Resources Protection Act, administered by Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection.  Any applicant for a permit to develop a “significant groundwater well” must demonstrate there will be no unreasonable effect from the well on surface waters, water-related natural resources, or existing uses (including public and private wells). 
  2. Regulation on Significant Groundwater Wells, administered by Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection.  Requires permit holders for significant groundwater wells to pay a fee to the Maine DEP calculated in part based on the total gallons of water extracted that Maine DEP uses to hire third-party professionals to peer review monitoring information provided by the permit holder. 
  3. Many of the communities where we operate in Maine (Denmark, Fryeburg, Kingfield, and Hollis) have specific performance standards that also apply to our operations that were designed specifically to address our withdrawals.  In general, these also require that we prove there will be no unreasonable adverse impact on water quality, water quantity, or various sensitive habitats.  

Plus, Nestle Waters said the plastic content of their .5 litter bottle is 8.94 grams while compared with soft drink companies' bottles show their content to ranges from 16.8 to 25 grams.

The company pumps about 110 million gallons a year. The battle to stop it has been going on for nearly 20 years and is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.

Fryeburg is really just a fraction of the company’s water. In fact, Nestle, which owns Poland Spring, is a multi-billion dollar corporation has springs all over the state. People in rural communities said they feel out powered.

“When a bottled water company comes to your town, it’s extremely hard to get them out of your town,” Nisha Swinton, who works for Food and Water Watch, said.

Swinton works for Food and Water Watch, which is a grassroots movement trying to protect water all over the country. They’ve been involved in the fight in Connecticut against Niagara, which is a California-based company poised to pump out nearly 2 million gallons of water from their reservoirs per day, which is more than 650 million gallons per year, and more than 6.5 billion gallons in a decade. 

People in West Hartford and Bloomfield are leading the charge against it.  

“To have a bottled water company come in,” Swinton said. “Have all these behind the scenes deals and having no voice in that. No control of public water sources.”

Nestle Natural Resource Manager Mark Dubois was asked if Maine could run out of water.  

“Sure that concern is a serious one. One that I take honestly,” Dubois said. “We are an open and transparent company, so we publish all of our data.”

Dubois said they monitor what they take and the impact on the water cycle is minimal. Yet the fundamental question still remains.

“We believe water is a human right and should not be sold as a commodity,” Swinton said.

While Fryeburg taxpayers don’t get any money, the company does create jobs and there are other benefits.  The fight in Connecticut, which ended up in the state legislature, sparked Eyewitness News’ interest to see what’s happening in other states.

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