In a Victory for Poland Spring, Maine Rejects New Groundwater Limits

Maine’s Legislature voted down a bill that would have limited large-scale pumping of groundwater in the state. Poland Spring, the bottled-water giant, had lobbied aggressively against the measure.

The proposal would have placed a 10-year limit on large-scale water-extraction contracts, a restriction that the bill’s supporters said would protect Maine’s precious groundwater at a time when water levels are falling across the country. It failed to pass on Thursday by a 21-to-12 vote in the State Senate.

Poland Spring, a major presence in Maine, draws water from eight locations around the state to bottle and sell. It is trying to lock in a new contract of up to 45 years to pump water in Lincoln, a former mill town.

BlueTriton — which owns Poland Spring and other major bottled-water brands, including Arrowhead and Deer Park — lobbied against the changes. Last year, The New York Times reported that the company wrote, and circulated among legislators, a proposed amendment that would have gutted the bill.

BlueTriton is backed financially by the private equity funds One Rock Capital Partners and Metropoulos & Co., which paid $4.3 billion in 2021 to buy Nestlé’s North American bottled-water business.

The bill eventually made it to the full Legislature, where BlueTriton continued its lobbying. For example, one flyer circulated by a Poland Spring lobbyist to lawmakers noted that the state’s public advocate’s office had said that it encouraged local water utilities “to enter into agreements to sell water whenever it is cost effective to do so.” However, William S. Harwood, Maine’s public advocate, said in an email interview that he supported the 10-year limit. An earlier version of the bill had called for a seven-year limit.

In response to questions, BlueTriton said it stood by the statements in the circular, calling it a “a fact-based explanatory document.” The company also said it had “a dedicated team of geologists, hydrogeologists, and engineers who work closely with state and local water agencies and environmental organizations to protect and conserve water as a renewable resource.”

The bill was voted down in the Maine State House and the Senate, with Republicans voting against it, along with several Democrats. Margaret M. O’Neil, a Democrat from Saco, in Southern Maine, who sponsored the bill, said, “Mainers don’t want Poland Spring to lock our communities into bad deals, and certainly not bad deals that last for decades.”

Mark Lawrence, a Democrat who headed the committee that considered the bill and voted against it in the State Senate, and Trey Stewart, the Republican Senate minority leader who also voted against it, didn’t respond to requests for comment.