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Great Lakes Article:

As bottled water sales rise, so does opposition to plants
National Trade Publications
posted 11/01/2002


WASHINGTON Bottled water companies are facing some opposition in communities across the nation that fear local wells, wetlands and streams are being drained dry in the pursuit of corporate profits.

Proposals by bottlers to pump huge amounts of water from rural communities have drawn opposition in at least six states: Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin, the Corpus Christi Caller Times reported.

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, the article said. 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 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.

Perrier 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 newspaper said.

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, the newspaper said.

To meet demand, bottled water companies have had to expand their pumping operations and find new sites to drill wells, the article said. 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.

Stephen Kay, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) told the newspaper that 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.

But University of New Hampshire professor Tom Ballestero said large groundwater users don't have to pump groundwater to the point of no return before they adversely affect private wells and the environment, the newspaper reported.

Perrier spokeswoman Jane Lazgin said residents in most places are pleased that the company is creating jobs and generating revenue and that opponents are a vocal minority, the article said.

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.

So struggles go on, like in Michigan where Gov. John Engler, a Republican, has sided with a Perrier project in Stanwood, MI, while state Attorney Gen. Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, both Democrats, oppose it, the newspaper reported. 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.

Perrier said it settled on Michigan as the site for the bottling plant after two attempts to locate a plant in neighboring Wisconsin met with opposition.

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