States fear being drained by bottled-water giants
Howard News Service
There is a growing national backlash against
bottled water companies, especially market giant Perrier,
by communities that fear local wells, wetlands and streams
will be drained dry in the quest for corporate profits.
Proposals by bottlers to pump huge amounts of water from
rural communities in some cases as much as 500
gallons per minute have drawn intense opposition
in at least six states: Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire,
Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.
The battles have launched nearly a dozen citizen activist
groups with names like "Save Our Springs," "Save America's
Water," and "Save Our Groundwater." The issue has prompted
the introduction of bills to tighten water laws in nearly
all of the states where controversy has arisen and several
governors have jumped into the fray. Lawsuits have been
filed in Wisconsin and Michigan, including one by three
Indian tribes. A recent legal case in Texas went all the
way to the state Supreme Court.
In every state except New Hampshire, the water fights
have involved the Perrier Group of America Inc., which
sells more bottled water in the United States than any
other company. Perrier is a subsidiary of the multinational
conglomerate Nestle S.A. of Vevey, Switzerland, the world's
largest food company.
Headquartered in Greenwich, Conn., the Perrier Group draws
water from 75 spring sites across the country for 15 brands
of bottled water, including the Ice Mountain, Deer Park,
Zephyrhills, Poland Springs and Ozarka labels.
The controversy reflects the phenomenal success of the
bottled water industry, which has annual sales of $35
billion worldwide. Bottled water sales in the United States
have tripled in the past 10 years to $5.7 billion in 2000,
according to Beverage Marketing Corp., a New York research
and consulting firm. Bottled water is projected to surpass
coffee and milk to become second in volume to soft drinks
To meet demand, bottled water companies have had to expand
their pumping operations and find new sites to drill wells.
In 1990, 2.2 billion gallons of bottled water were sold
in the United States, nearly all of it produced domestically.
By 2005, sales are projected to top 7.2 billion gallons.
The bottled water fights are "a relatively new phenomenon,"
said Stephen Kay, a spokesman for the International Bottled
Water Association. "It's a classic NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard)
Bottled water companies that invest millions of dollars
in pumping operations and bottling plants have an interest
in making sure aquifers aren't pumped to the point they
can't recharge, Kay noted. "It wouldn't begin to make
good business sense to come in and deplete a water resource
and make it not viable," he said.
But large groundwater users don't have to pump groundwater
to the point of no return before they adversely affect
private wells and the environment, said University of
New Hampshire professor Tom Ballestero, a civil engineer
groundwater they are pumping and exporting was going somewhere
before where it had an environmental (benefit)," Ballestero
said. "Once you take it out, it's gone forever."
Perrier spokeswoman Jane Lazgin said residents in most
places are pleased that the company is creating jobs and
generating revenue in their community and that opponents
are a vocal minority.
Perrier's opponents said local opposition to the company's
projects is widespread, but small communities with limited
money and expertise are at a disadvantage.
David versus Goliath," said Terry Swier, 58, a retired
librarian in rural Mecosta County, Mich., where Perrier
has received permission from the state to construct a
plant capable of bottling 260 million gallons of water
a year from the local aquifer.
Swier, who had no previous experience in community activism,
is president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation,
which was formed last year to fight the project. She now
gives talks to groups across the state on the importance
of protecting local water supplies.
The project has become a hot political issue in Michigan.
Gov. John Engler, a Republican, has sided with Perrier,
while state Attorney Gen. Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Sen.
Carl Levin, both Democrats, oppose the project.
Last month, three northern Michigan Indian tribes sued
Engler and the state agency that granted pumping permits
to Perrier, arguing the project could impact rivers and
streams that feed the Great Lakes.