Poland Spring’s Water Wars
A bottled water company is accused of political skullduggery in Maine.
BlueTriton, the company that produces Poland Spring bottled water, is quietly trying to gut a Maine bill that would limit the number of years that such businesses can ship its water out of state, The New York Timesreports. The proposed legislation would reduce the length of such contracts to seven years, far short of the 45 years sought by BlueTriton. The seven-year cap would give Maine greater flexibility to, in effect, turn off BlueTriton's spigot if climate change and drought affect the state's future water supply.
“We’re seeing our communities get locked into these contracts that are going to last, basically, the rest of my lifetime,” Margaret O’Neil, the Democratic state legislator who introduced the bill, told the Times. Though it received a majority committee vote on its way to the full legislature, the measure seems to have been stalled by a BlueTriton lobbyist who reportedly urged lawmakers to “strike everything.” Sure enough, the bill was rescinded, and now faces an uncertain future.
“We couldn’t believe it. Their amendment strikes the entire bill,” Democratic state representative Christopher Kessler told the Times. “Because all this happened behind closed doors, the public doesn’t know that Poland Spring stalled the process.” A new section on BlueTriton’s website asserts that “we take a principled approach to assessing proposed regulations” and that the company is “committed to transparency and accountability, and [we] are open about our involvement in the legislative process.”
As climate change and overuse threatens the country’s aquifers, the role of bottlers such as BlueTriton has come under greater scrutiny, especially in drought-prone areas. In September, California’s water board blocked BlueTriton's use of a San Bernardino county watershed, and in Michigan, proposed legislation would prohibit the out-of-state shipment of bottled water. And though Maine's groundwater supplies appear to be largely healthy and rainfall in the region is expected to increase as the planet warms, the state has also experienced significant droughts in recent years, including one from 1999 to 2002 that dried out an estimated 17,000 private wells. As a group of researchers at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute wrote in 2020, “There is considerable uncertainty whether drought will become more frequent in the future, presenting further challenges to decision-making.”
BlueTriton, meanwhile, maintains that “some of our oldest brands have sourced water from many of the same springs for decades, and we are continuing to conserve them for their vitality tomorrow.” Though the company sources water from eight different areas of Maine, it neglects to mention that the iconic spring in the town of Poland, which gave the brand its start, ran dry in 1967.