Bottled-water companies spur fights over water rights in Eastern states

Water-rights battles, long the domain of Western states, are now being fought in the Eastern U.S., thanks to the bottled-water industry. In 1980, Americans drank less than three gallons of bottled water per capita annually; today, the number tops 26 gallons. Activists worry that large-scale water withdrawals deplete local wells, rivers, and wetlands. New Hampshire and Vermont have both tightened restrictions on large-scale water withdrawals this year, and a similar bill is pending in Michigan. In Maine, where bottling company Poland Spring slurps up at least 600 million gallons of water a year, a citizens group wants to require bottling companies to bid for water, with proceeds going to the state. Bottling companies say they’re being targeted unfairly, and point to a recent survey that found that only 0.019 percent of all withdrawn U.S. groundwater is bottled. State officials smell jobs and have largely sided with bottlers. “The amount of water that could be used in Maine for this type of activity is an endless supply,” says the commissioner of, ironically, Maine’s Department of Conservation.