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Nestlé’s water mining in Maine for their Poland Spring brand
Poland Spring bottled water is Nestlé's flagship spring water brand in the United States and the #1 selling SKU in all of metropolitan NYC.
Poland Spring was at first a small water company started in 1859 by a family of proprietors in Poland, Maine. They understood the quality of the water of this spring was exemplary due to the indigenous Abenaki's ancestral knowledge they capitalized on, after these original stewards were extirpated from the land. In 1907, an upgraded 'state of the art' bottling facility produced 450 cases per day and was served in elite social circles of that time. Later in 1980, Perrier bought Poland Spring which was soon acquired by Nestlé Waters in 1992. Since that time, Nestlé has grown their brand exponentially to 3 plastic bottling facilities in western Maine that mines water from 10 different towns. The bottling facility in Hollis is boasted to be the second largest in the world, producing over 250,000 cases of 24, 16oz bottles per day from that one location alone. Nestlé now exports over a billion gallons per year from local aquifers, an amount that is over 850 gallons per person, per year from the state of Maine.
The 10 current locations from which Nestlé / Poland Spring extracts water:
Poland*, Fryeburg, Kingfield*, St Albans, Pierce Pond Township, Dallas Plantation, Hollis*, Denmark and added in the past 2 years, Rumford and Lincoln. (* locations that currently include plastic bottling plants) (See map insert below.)
Nestlé has taken full advantage of Maine’s outdated legal infrastructure to attain a massive amount of wealth from the privatized profits of our water commons with little benefit to local communities. In some locations they pay nothing for the water they take. In towns like Fryeburg they pay 1/10th of one cent per gallon, on a prorated scale (the more they pump, the less they pay). They have also achieved regulatory capture of state agencies where there are many conflicts of interest; including current employees working as Poland Spring brand natural resource managers on our Board of Environmental Protection and the board of the Maine Drinking Water Program. This allows Nestlé the benefit of undue influence and to potentially dictate their own profit and risk as these boards are legally designed to work with other state agencies.
In 2012, Community Water Justice came together as concerned citizens in Fryeburg, in response to a contract that would last for 45 years between Nestlé and the Fryeburg Water Company, a privately owned municipal water supplier. Because the contract was between 2 private companies, the citizens’ concerns were rejected. It took our community 1.5 years to get all of the Public Utilities Commissioners to recuse themselves from this case, as they all had financial ties to Nestlé. After taking the case up to the Maine State Supreme Court in Taylor vs Public Utilities Commission, the court determined it was not within the purview of the PUC to consider environmental impacts for contracts exporting Maine’s water. This was a U.S. precedent setting case for a contract of this length.
Nestlé is now looking to build a 4th plastic bottling plant in Maine. They've long wanted to secure a site in Fryeburg, but have been unsuccessful to date, due to community resistance. Their current interests are along existing rail lines all the while a conflict-of-interest legislator on Maine’s Transportation Committee pushes for rail infrastructure improvements that would socialize Nestlé’s cost of doing business. Additionally, land holding companies for Wall Street banks are buying properties that abuts Nestlé’s, which give more stability to water as a speculative commodity through “water futures”. It appears the ‘water wars’ of the future are at our doorstep..
(UPDATE - Nestlé announced being in negotiations to sell their Poland Spring brand to private equity firm, One Rock Capital Partners.)
In the 2019 legislative session, Community Water Justice supported 3 different bills to upgrade our legal infrastructure, one of which succeeded. We continue to work with communities to adopt local water ordinances for stronger source protections. With continued education and alliance building, we continue this work in 2021!