Despite the ongoing drought, the Poland Spring bottling company has asked for permission to double the amount of water it extracts from one of its wells in Hollis.
Residents packed into a meeting of the Hollis Planning Board last Wednesday, many of them to register their objections to the bottling giant’s proposal to double its withdrawal from 30 million gallons of water a year to 60 million gallons.
“I certainly think that it’s really bad timing if you’re thinking about PR,’’ said Barbara Coleman, who attended the meeting. “We’ve got people in town whose wells are dry or depleted. There were folks there that were in really dire straits.’’
Much of York County is in a severe drought, like much of the state.
In June, BlueTriton Brands, the owner of Poland Spring, filed an application to modify its permit in order to increase the withdrawal from its Borehole 6 to 60 million gallons a year. “The increased withdrawal rate will not deplete or degrade adjacent water bodies or supplies,’’ the application said.
Experts have differed on what impact bottlers’ extraction of huge amounts of water has on nearby wells, and the bottled water companies have traditionally argued that they are removing a relatively small amount from Maine’s vast aquifer. Nonetheless, in 2016, Poland Spring, then owned by Nestle, cut back on its water withdrawal amid a severe drought, the Portland Press Herald reported at the time.
In a statement, a spokesman for Poland Spring said Tuesday that the proposed increase “is less than the amount of water that falls as precipitation naturally on 30 acres in Maine.’’
“Increasing the permitted volume of spring water withdrawal will not have any adverse impact on natural resources in the area, including groundwater, surface water, and wetland resources according to long-term monitoring studies,’’ the statement said.
It added that the state Department of Environmental Protection has already signed off on the request.
The Town Planning Board has placed the Poland Spring request on its agenda for its next meeting on August 24. It is hiring an independent hydrologist to review the request.
Along with the drought, residents expressed concerns about truck traffic caused by the company.
“People were saying, ‘You can’t make a decision tonight.’ The place was packed,” said Nina Fuller, who owns a sheep farm about six miles from the Poland Spring wells and who has been without water for a week.
Fuller said she wants to know if the Poland Spring operation is causing her own well to run dry. But as she drove back from the laundromat on Monday, her frustration was clear.
After Fuller attended the planning board meeting last week, she said Poland Spring contacted her and told her the company would deliver her some of its water. On Monday, several cases arrived — though she doubted it would be enough for her 35 sheep, five horses, and four goats.
She sent a photo of the bottles, with her dog Skye atop the stack, to a Monitor reporter. “There’s more plastic in that photograph than there is water,’’ Fuller said.
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