Category Archives: Poland Spring

Maine Drought in 2001/2002 Caused Massive Water Shortages For Residents, Belies Nestle Claims of Perennial Abundance

While Nestle Waters/Poland Spring claims that Maine’s groundwater is so abundant, there simply won’t be issues with extraction – or that groundwater pumping couldn’t harm anyone’s well or aquifer – they seem to have forgotten what happened in 2002, when Maine residents struggled with severe water shortages, record-low groundwater levels, and dried-up private wells:

Area water resources improved since 2002 drought |

The year 2002 found Maine at the forefront of national news as its residents struggled for the fourth year in a row to adapt to a shortage in the water supply. A report by the U.S. Geological Survey said the drought “was the most severe drought on Maine rivers in more than 50 years.”

According to a New York Times article from March 15, 2002, whole neighborhoods on Sebago Lake were forced to flush their toilets only once a day, to forgo the use of their washing machines and use bottled water to brush their teeth.

Things were bad the state over.

According to a report by the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Environmental and Watershed Research at the University of Maine, “Maine experienced the worst drought in over 30 years during 2001 and 2002.”

Groundwater, lakes and streams went to record lows, and thousands of private wells went dry. Public water utilities were forced to tell customers to cut back on consumption and, looking ahead, seek out alternate water sources.

Yet Maine today is a water-rich state, said John Peckenham, the director of the Maine Water Resources Research Institute at the University of Maine.

“But we are vulnerable to changes in weather, like the drought of 1999-2001,” he said. “A lot of water suppliers were affected then, including the (Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Wells Water District).”

As for Nestle’s claims of monitoring to “protect” the resource, you only have to look to the Mecosta County (MI) for proof to the contrary, where residents had to take Nestle Waters to court to halt excessive pumping, which was damaging a wetlands and a lake.

In fact, when some residents complained that Nestle’s pumping was lowering the lakes so much their docks no longer reached the water, Nestle’s concern for the resource consisted of little more than offering to extend the docks.

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Poland Spring Fighting Maine Legislature to Preserve Profits

Via the Portland Press Herald, we learn about what’s starting to look like a general uprising against Nestle/Poland Spring’s business model of profiting heavily from water while externalizing every other cost to the public. Poland Spring feels the heat in Augusta | Portland Press Herald

Poland Spring is fighting a number of measures as lawmakers consider proposals ranging from a tax on bottled water to a bill that would allow local communities to deny corporations their constitutional rights. The proposals come as the water bottler has also had to contend with the recession, growing public distaste toward plastic bottles and opposition to its activities in a number of Maine communities.

Today, the Taxation Committee holds a public hearing on a proposed penny-a-gallon tax. The tax would apply to containers of five gallons or less, with half the revenue offsetting other taxes; 25 percent to watershed and water-quality protection; and 25 percent to the community from which the water was extracted.

Also up for discussion is a bill allowing cities to treat corporations differently than individuals – the issue at the heart of the bans voted in by citizens in Newfield and Shapleigh.

On Wednesday, the State and Local Government Committee considers a bill that would allow municipalities to deny corporations constitutional rights. Discussion among committee members and a vote are possible during the work session.

The measure is related to local water-extraction ordinances promoted by activists in several communities. The local ordinances state that corporations doing business in the community do not have the protections found in the federal and state constitutions.

Residents of Newfield and Shapleigh have approved such measures in recent months. Selectmen in Wells had voted against putting the measure on the ballot, but a petition drive gathered enough signatures to force a special town meeting that will be held May 16.

“We’re trying to protect our own aquifer here in southern Maine because we don’t want to get in bed with Nestle. And we want the right as local people to protect our local resources,” said Cynthia Howard, a Biddeford architect and a member of Save Our Water, or SOH2O.

This one faces a much tougher battle, and the state attorney general’s office thinks it might just be unconstitutional. It’s also been derided as “anti-business” though we have to comment; this wouldn’t be necessary if some businesses were more citizen friendly (and yes, we mean you, our lawsuit-happy friends at Nestle).

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Maine Legislature Enacts Bill Requiring Majority Approval of Voters Before Districts Sell Water

Yet more news guaranteed not to make Nestle Waters/Poland Spring particularly happy:

KENNEBUNK — A bill to regulate how local water districts enter into contracts to sell water was enacted by the state Legislature last week.

Rep. Ed Legg (D-Kennebunk) introduced the legislation, which would require any consumer-owned water utility to hold a public hearing with notice before entering into a contract to sell or lease water rights.

Although the original text also included a referendum requiring majority approval of voters in the district to enter into such an agreement, Legg is pleased with the compromise passed on Wednesday, he said.

“It was a tough political battle,” Legg said. “We made a real step forward with this bill.”

Legg said he was prompted to introduce legislation by a proposed contract between the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport & Wells Water District to sell water to Poland Spring in June 2008. Some residents in the district were opposed to the contract and organized a rally at the district’s Kennebunk office. The contract was tabled indefinitely in July 2008.

Legg said he was surprised to find that no public process is required for water utilities to enter into agreements like the Poland Spring contract. He hopes local water utilities – or the Legislature – will amend their charters in the future to require referendum for such contracts.

Norm Labbe, superintendent of the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport & Wells Water District, said last week he was comfortable with the bill that came out of the utilities and energy committee.

“It’s not very different from what the district would have done if the issue were to come up again,” Labbe said Wednesday. “We did not anticipate what happened last summer. It would be a very public process if it were to ever come up again.”

The language proposed by the Committee on Utilities and Energy requires a public meeting and notice at least 30 days before the meeting. A water district cannot enter into a contract until at least 30 days after the public meeting. Sales to existing customers or other water utilities would be exempt from the law.

Given that Nestle’s modus operandi includes flying under the radar as much as possible in rural communities (witness the behind-closed-door negotiations in McCloud, and the last-minute discoveries of contract negotiations in several Maine communities), this is clearly a step forward for Mainers wishing to retain local control of resources.

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“How Your Town Can Keep Its Water Out of Corporate Hands”

Intelligent words from How Your Town Can Keep Its Water Out of Corporate Hands: A Test Case

This is certainly not the first time that a multi-national corporation treated Maine as if they were a colonial power entitled to our resources. In the past, international paper companies have turned our rivers brown from pollution and huge timber companies have exploited our forests. But the battle over our pure groundwater resources has become the tipping point in Maine. Community after community are now resisting corporate control.

The battle in Newfield and Shapleigh began when resident Ann Wentworth was hiking in the Wildlife Preserve and discovered that Nestle had (illegally) drilled several “test” wells without notifying the townspeople. The community was shocked, which galvanized support of the activists efforts to stop Nestle.

This was not an easy victory, as Nestle sent “representatives” out into the community to convince the residents of both Newfield and Shapleigh that they would be “a good neighbor.” Nestle also spent tens of thousands of dollars on advertising in the community and it is alleged that they offered money to the fire department for new equipment. However, to quote activist Sol Linowitz, “The way to beat organized money is with organized people.”

The P.O.W.W.R. water activists and allies know their neighbors, and once people understood that it was in fact the Nestle Corporation who was after their water and not the small Maine- owned Poland Springs company of years past, the townspeople did their homework and decided that this was not a company that they wanted to do business with. Nestle has been on the non-profit Corporate Accountability’s Hall of Shame for years, as one of the world’s worst corporations. This bad reputation goes back over 30 years during the baby formula scandal in Africa to the present baby formula scandal in China.

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News Flash from Maine: Town of Fryeburg Loses Right to Local Zoning Control to… Nestle/Poland Springs

I just got off the phone with a resident of Fryeburg – the town that’s been under legal assault by Nestle/Poland Spring for the last six years. The news isn’t good.

After a lawsuit and four appeals, Nestle’s legions of legal talent finally succeeded in overturning the citizen appeal of the town’s original planning commission permit (written largely by a lobbyist for the trucking industry who later recused himself from the board and was caught passing information to Nestle via email).

You can download a .pdf file of the court’s decision here (look for the Nestle vs Fryeburg cast in mid-page).

I can’t tell you if this is the end of the road for Fryeburg’s citizen partisans, but I can tell you that where Nestle Waters goes, local control of water, roads and zoning seemingly disappears. More to come.

Second Maine Town Enacts Water Extraction Ordinance,

A second Maine town has enacted a rights-based water extraction ordinance (Shapleigh was the first); now Newfield passed a ban on a vote of 228 to 146.

From – Newfield Passes Ban On Large Scale Water Extraction

NEWFIELD (NEWS CENTER) — The town of Newfield is now the second in Maine to ban large-scale water extraction.

Saturday’s vote was 228 in favor of the new ordinance and 146 against. The vote is a reaction to interest from Poland Spring Water and its parent company, Nestle, in pumping water from an aquifer shared by Newfield and Shapleigh.

Shapleigh voted for the same ban on water extraction two weeks ago. However, there is some concern that that ordinance could be overturned in court. As a result, townspeople voted on a different ordinance at town meeting Saturday that would lay out what a water company would have to do to be able to extract water from the aquifer.

While Shapleigh’s Selectmen are making noises about the legality of the Shapleigh ordinance, the real questions revolve around Nestle/Poland Spring’s willingness to step into yet another damaging legal fight (one wonders what their five suits against Fryeburg have cost their already-tarnished reputation).

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Letter From Shapleigh Residents (Proud to Live In Shapleigh)

This from the Defending Water in Maine “Water in the News” blog – a letter from a Shapleigh resident about the just-passed rights-based ordinance. Kinda makes you smile.

Proud to live in Shapleigh (letter)

We are so proud to be counted among Shapleigh’s Citizens, and especially among those voters that were at the Citizen’s Town Meeting this past Saturday, February 28, 2009.

HOORAY & KUDOS to all of us who voted to keep our water in our own hands. Hooray & kudos also to all who voted their conscience. It just proves that we now live in a town which gives every citizen the right to vote on issues that will impact our way of life. We’re not divided at all. We simply utilize our right to vote!

We’ve had a lot of precipitation lately, but that won’t always be the case. We heard recently that just before the Fire of 1947, there was an abundance of rain. Then quite suddenly a very dry period. People were actually driven to the ocean, we are told, to stand there in the water until the fire was extinguished. California is now experiencing a tremendous drought. One never knows when water will be badly needed here in York County where we are so blessed with water.

Edward Murphy of the Portland Press Herald wrote an article for the March 1, 2009, Sunday Telegram about our vote to ban large scale water extraction. It was a comment from Bill Hayes’, in this article, that took us by surprise. At all of the Public Hearings, questions were asked of him and the Planning Board about what Poland Springs was bringing to the table regarding monies they would spend for our water. Always the response was no particular water extractor had expressed an interest or applied for a permit, and that even if one had, discussion of money would not take place until well into the exploratory process.

Now that all is said and done, and large scale water extractors are banned from mining our water, Mr. Hayes says that talks with the water bottler never got to the point where a dollar figure was discussed, but the amount “would have been significant.” Now wait a minute – talks with a water bottler? Weren’t we told none had applied for a permit? Wait another minute – didn’t get to the point of discussing dollars? How then would Mr. Hayes know it “would have been significant.”? Not that it would have mattered to Shapleigh’s citizens – at least most of them. We still want to keep our water within our control.

We the voters of Shapleigh made ourselves clear. We do not want our water extracted and sold. We’re a caring community. As far as we know, we would gladly give water to anyone who is thirsty.

Sat., March 14, 10:00 AM, Shapleigh Memorial School, is the annual Shapleigh Town Meeting. Part of that Warrant will be to enact the Town of Shapleigh Ordinance Governing the Large-Scale Pumping or Extraction of Groundwater, Spring Water and/or Water from Aquifers within the Municipality of Shapleigh, Maine – An addition to Town of Shapleigh Ordinances Section 105 -. We need to, once again go to the school and vote “NO” on this Regulatory Ordinance. We already stated with our vote on Shapleigh Water Rights & Local Self-Government Ordinance that we don’t want our water mined and sold out of our town.

And also on Sat., March 14, 1:00 PM, Newfield has the opportunity to be part of this historical moment and enact Newfield’s Water Rights & Local Self-Government Ordinance. We share an aquifer, and we’d like to share the historical glory. Abraham Lincoln stated it grandly: “Right Makes Might!” GO FOR IT!

Marty & Barbara Britten
No. Shapleigh, Maine

More on the Shapleight “Rights-Based” Water Extraction Ordinance

This from the Portland Press Herald outlines the basic clash between citizens and their own Board of Selectmen, who apparently haven’t been listening to their citizens. You can read the entire article at Shapleigh closes tap for water companies:

During a special town meeting Saturday morning, residents voted 114 to 66 to adopt the ban drafted by Protecting Our Water and Wildlife Resources, which had opposed Poland Spring’s efforts to test, draw, bottle and market the town’s water.

The ban had been opposed by the town’s Board of Selectmen, which had favored instead a set of regulations on drawing water in the town that will be on the warrant for the regular town meeting on March 14.

“The problem in Shapleigh is that all three selectpeople want Nestle (Poland Spring’s parent company) in here,” said Shelly Gobeille, one of the leaders of POWWR. “This vote says they can’t come in.”

Will we see yet another attempt by Nestle/Poland Spring to bypass local control? Given the questions being asked by other small towns about Nestle/Poland Spring’s legal activities in Maine’s small towns, do they dare? Do they care?

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Shapleigh Residents Just Say “NO” to Nestle/Poland Spring: Pass Water Extraction Ordinance

I’m sure this is just the beginning of the story – Nestle’s willingness to use a legal bludgeon to ensure profits is well known – but the residents of Shapleigh have overwhelmingly voted to ban water extraction in the tiny Maine town (from the Journal Tribune):

SHAPLEIGH — Residents Saturday approved a rights-based ordinance that prohibits water extraction by corporations.

The vote was 114 to 66 and came 25 minutes into the Town Meeting – and only seven minutes after the call for the vote.

The vote makes Shapleigh the only Maine community to have approved a rights-based ordinance. Residents of Barnstead, N.H., passed a similar ordinance in 2007.

The question now: Will it be challenged?

Immediately following the vote, Selectman Bill Hayes seemed to suggest that selectmen might issue a challenge, but when confronted by a voter, said the board would seek legal advice.

“We’ll seek advice from counsel,” said Hayes. “If the ordinance isn’t enforcable, it puts us in a pretty precarious position as how to proceed.”

Both the town’s lawyer and a Maine Municipal Association attorney have said the rights-based ordinance is unconstitutional and against Maine law.

Selectman Mike Perro read a statement from town attorney Ron Bourque just before the vote, which said the ordinance was illegal, unconstitutional and unenforcable.

Martin Bretton, of the citizens group Protecting Our Water and Wildlife Resources, read an opinion from the group’s attorney, Lynne Williams of Bar Harbor, who is also a candidate for governor as a Green Independent. Williams noted that the ordinance hasn’t been tested in court so, in her opinion, to say it is illegal or unconstitutional isn’t in an attorney’s purview.

Passage of the ordinance is a victory for the citizens group. When it approached selectmen with a petition last year to have the rights-based ordinance on the annual Town Meeting ballot, the group’s request was rejected, based on the lawyers’ opinions.

Town selectman fought the adoption of the ordinance every step of the way, though residents were clearly unhappy with a proposed “extraction-friendly” ordinance written by a consultant (referred to board by Nestle/Poland Spring).

There’s little doubt that Nestle Waters/Poland Spring – in an effort to forestall the adoption of similar ordinances elsewhere – would be willing to use its heavy legal hammer to turn back the ordinance — and create a little fear and doubt in the minds of others considering a similar action.

Good luck to the residents of Shapleigh, who voted to retain local control of one of their most critical resources.

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Nestle Continues Attempts to “Force Their Hand” Against Shapleigh Citizens

It’s instructive to watch Nestle Waters enforce the same blueprint rural community after rural community.

While I’ve got a report coming about last week’s McCloud meeting, this article on Nestle’s attempt to (as they so quaintly put it) “force their hand” in the tiny rural town of Shapleigh reads as if it was taken from the Nestle playbook:

Shapleigh and Newfield are small rural communities, nestled in the foothills of the Presidential mountain range. Combined, the towns’ population is less then 4,000 residents.

These two small Maine towns share an abundant sand and gravel aquifer that is protected by the 4,000 acre Vernon Walker Game Management Area. Vernon Walker is publicly owned state land that is managed by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. In 2006, without any public oversight, Nestlé sunk up to 16 bore wells in this public land to determine the viability of industrial water extraction.

When the state offered a price/gallon too high for the Fortune 500 company, they started bargaining with Shapleigh town officials in an effort to instead begin operating on town land adjacent to Vernon Walker.

On September 20, 2008, Shapleigh citizens sent a clear message to Nestlé when the town voted overwhelmingly for a 180-day moratorium to protect their groundwater. They also voted NO to drilling and testing by Nestlé on the town-owned parcel of land.

In the Boston Globe, Nestlé’s lead geologist was quoted as saying, “we might need to force our hand” in regards to the resistance of Shapleigh and Newfield residents.

And since the vote in September, the company has not stopped in its efforts to get the precious water from this area, and the Town’s elected officials are attempting to push forward an ordinance that will open the door to large scale industrial water extraction.

Read the entire article at Nestlé is moving fast–southern Mainers need your help

Register Your Thoughts: Letter: People POWWER (Feb. 12, 2009)

This thoughtful letter to the editor draws a bead on the water ordinance proposed by Shapleigh’s Board of Selectmen – an ordinance written by a Nestle-referred consultant.

It falls far short of the ordinance desired by the citizens of Shapleigh when they voted for a water extraction moratorium:

The “Ordinance Governing Water Extraction,” proposed for the Shapleigh voters to act upon (available at ) boils down to an application permit. Once any company has met, or promises to meet the requirements of this ordinance, the town would not have the legal right to refuse the applicant permission to extract water.

The town relies upon the applicant to supply information, without independent verification. Any state-certified hydrologist working for a company need only tell the “truth,” not necessarily the “whole truth.” Pertinent facts can be omitted or skewed by the inclusion of extraneous information.

Also of note, is that under the application “conditions of permit” the applicant is given an unspecified amount of time to show adherence to the stated requirements. In truth, some of the requirements would require long term pumping at high capacity just to satisfy the information being asked.

Once again, the public’s desire to participate in the future disposition of their own water supply is on the verge of falling victim to bad public process.

You can read the rest of this powerful letter to the editor via Register Your Thoughts: Letter: People POWWER (Feb. 12, 2009).

Poland Spring/Nestle Facing Challenges in Maine (Wonders Why??)

With Nestle/Poland Springs facing growing opposition in Maine, you knew the self-righteous whining was sure to follow. And sure enough, it has.

From the Portland Press Herald: Challenges piling up for Poland Spring

After 146 years of doing business in Maine, Poland Spring is fighting battles on three fronts these days — over test wells in Shapleigh, a proposed tax that would cost the company $7 million a year, and a state Supreme Court case over a pumping station in Fryeburg.

Actually, there are a couple more fights in progress, and that’s ignoring the looming fight over truck/traffic issues that will eventually (mark my words) come to the fore.

Still, that doesn’t prevent Nestle’s operative on the ground from voicing a regrettably amusing lament:

“Where have we done harm or where have we caused issues that have caused people to take drastic steps like this?” asked Mark Dubois, natural resource director for Poland Spring, a subsidiary of Nestle Waters North America.

We’re going to speak slowly here so our friend Mark can follow.

Mark, your company is slow-roasting the town of Fryeburg with your five-suits-and-counting legal assault (and because you can afford expensive attorneys, your predatory multinational could easily strip the town of control over its own development).

In several instances you’ve apparently tried to cut water extraction deals before citizens could notice.

In fact, I compiled a list of reasons why small towns don’t trust Nestle (though you’ve created new reasons you frisky corporate types, and I haven’t updated the list yet), and perhaps you’d like to review that list here.

Still, it’s hard not return to the subject of Fryeburg, where your predatory company acts as if it’s entitled to build a truck loading station in a residential despite what the town’s planning commission and citizens seem to want.

In fact, Mark, I’m going to make a bold prediction here; if Nestle wins it suit and forces itself on the tiny town of Fryeburg, your troubles in Maine – and I say this with a great deal of sincerity – are only beginning.