Friday, June 30, 2006

New Water Battleground: Bottled Water vs. Public Interest

Maine has become a battleground in a growing fight that pits environmentalists against an industry that has become rich by selling the purity of nature: the bottlers of spring water.

The water in Lovewell Pond in Fryeburg, Maine, has turned from clear and sandy to dark and weedy in the past year. The problem is a cutback in clean water from a nearby natural spring, which used to dilute the murky flow coming in from the Saco River. Now, though, millions of gallons of the spring's water are pumped into tanker trucks bound for a Poland Spring bottling plant.

In a series of lawsuits and statehouse debates that reached critical mass in the past year, activists and lawmakers have questioned whether bottling companies have become too greedy about the water they take from the ground, and -- in some cases -- what gives them the right to take it at all.

This year two Eastern states, New Hampshire and Vermont, have tightened their restrictions on large-scale water withdrawals, both with bottlers in mind, and another such bill has been proposed in Michigan. In California, Michigan and New Hampshire, local groups opposed to new water wells have filed suit.

Last year in Maine, a citizens group proposed a measure thought to be the first of its kind: to tax every gallon of water extracted. That effort failed, but now the group is pushing a proposal that declares, "The citizens of the State collectively own the State's groundwater." It would create a system in which companies would have to bid against one another to tap prime water aquifers, with the proceeds going to the state.

Resource wars are upon us, and the are not necessarily of the military kind.


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