FRYEBURG, Maine — In an environmentally conscious state with a lackluster economy, Poland Spring has been a decades-long delight: a nonpolluting industry that relies on a renewable resource to provide hundreds of good-paying jobs in small towns. The bottle of spring water with the dark green label has become as much a part of Maine‘s image as a pair of L.L. Bean boots. The company‘s longtime slogan says it all: “Poland Spring. What it means to be from Maine.“


But the love affair between the third-largest bottled water brand and its home state began falling apart in 2005, starting with the first of four trials – Nestlé against the citizens of Freyburg. Now, in 2016 there was a new court case. A Fryeburg resident and a national nonprofit organization had appealed an October 2014 decision granting Poland Spring‘s parent company a long-term contract to withdraw water from a well in Fryeburg. The decision: Nestle wins the trial.



Pump Station

Nestlé Waters

Poland Spring Waters

217,000,000 gl/year


U.S. bottled water brands,

sales per year

Poland Spring






Pure Life


Ice Mountain



Coca Cola

Commission ruled in favor for Nestlé

The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) wasn’t swayed by public opposition, approving a long-term contract Thursday [edit: Oct. 2014] that allows privately owned Fryeburg Water Co. to sell water to Nestlé Waters, bottler of the Poland Spring label in Maine. Two temporary PUC commissioners ruled on the matter, saying the contract didn’t violate the “no net harm” standard used for such agreements. The decision overruled the recommendation last month by the PUC staff that the contract be rejected.


Under the deal, Nestlé Waters, a subsidiary of Switzerland’s Nestle SA, the world’s largest food and beverage company, gets control of a key supply of spring water, while Fryeburg Water gets a stable, predictable flow of cash. Opponents say the deal does not serve the interests of a community reliant on a valuable resource. They said Fryeburg Water is giving up the water for less than it’s worth now – and almost certainly what it will be worth in the future, when population growth and climate change could tax water supplies.

The deal and the criticism of the opponents

Poland Spring is a brand of bottled water manufactured originally in Poland, in the U.S. state of Maine. It is a subsidiary of Nestlé – the largest food and beverage company in the world – and sold in the United States. Today, Poland Spring is the 3rd best-selling bottled water brand in the U.S. with meanwhile the water is derived from multiple sources in the state of Maine including Evergreen Spring in Fryeburg.


In Fryeburg, the company has operated since 1997 under a contract with no time limits and no cap on the amount of water that can be withdrawn from the aquifer. The new contract, which will soon take effect, caps water withdrawals at 603,000 gallons per day but also provides the town with $12,000 a month from Nestle, which will lease one well, a two-acre plot and some equipment. It gives Poland Spring permission to take the small town of Fryeburg’s groundwater for the next 25 years for their own profit. The deal could stretch to 45 years due to built-in extensions.

“Contracts of this length come with an unprecedented concern in our current times.” Nickie Sekera, the co-founder of Community Water Justice said to US Uncut about the water deal.

“With the changes we are witnessing in our climate, increasing global water insecurity, and industry polluting freshwater resources with little accountability… corporate control over drinking water resources for profit aligns us on a collision course with local water security.”

– Nickie Sekera

According to Sekera, the town’s water supplier had been able to keep Fryeburg’s government largely out of the loop during negotiations with Nestlé. “Our local municipal water supplier for Fryeburg, Maine, is run by a private company,” Sekera said. “So it’s not run by a municipality… [so] they can engage in contracts with corporations such as Nestlé much easier. It benefits their shareholders and Nestlé because it’s not publicly run and managed, which helps them get what they want.”

The maine law – an antiquated relic

Maine has what’s called “absolute dominion” laws with respect to groundwater, which, as Sekera put it, “basically equates to whoever has the biggest straw wins. So you own the property, you own all the water mining rights under your property. And it doesn’t protect us from global water predators such as Nestlé.” The law is essentially an antiquated relic, because it does not account for underwater reservoirs being connected with each other

Michael Dana and

Howard Dearborn

or to surface water. Sekera criticized the original decision, saying that regulators should not approve long-term contracts for groundwater purchases. “It is not within the PUC’s purview to consider long-term environmental impacts of water mining on Maine’s aquifers, and because ‘the precautionary principle’ is not considered, any burden of proof would befall on local citizens, which puts all of Maine at risk from over-extraction,” Sekera said.


An unusual process of handling the case

The group asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to consider specific parts of the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s decision but also the unusual process by which the case was decided. The case was unusual because of the withdrawal of all three regular commissioners and the public advocate from the case. Two of the commissioners recused themselves because they had worked on Nestlé matters in their previous work for law firms, and the third, an engineer, had worked for the company. Sadly, it was then up to Governor LePage, an early Trump supporter labeled by Politico as “America’s Craziest Governor” to appoint their interim replacements. LePage has recently survived efforts from Maine legislators to impeach him for “using his power to wrongly intimidate government and nonprofit organizations, and to bend them to his will.”

“Now in reality, because everything was presented and done through the eyes of conflicted commissioners, we should’ve gotten a completely new docket on this case. But that wasn’t granted, and he appointed two other alternate commissioners who were — you know — of similar leanings to the governor.”

– Nickie Sekera

The impasse resulted in new state law allowing Gov. Paul LePage to appoint as alternate commissioners three retired judges: Paul Rudman, John Atwood and Francis Marsano. Rudman and Atwood decided the case, stipulating that Fryeburg Water Co. could sell bulk water to other companies and would have first dibs on its water in the case of an emergency. In an appeal to regulators filed Feb. 20, 2015, Food and Water Watch questioned the legal basis for the commission to approve the contract on four points and

“Today’s decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court paves the way for a private corporation to profit from a vital public resource for decades to come.”

– Nickie Sekera

The appellants expressed disappointment Thursday and predicted the case could have broader implications. “Today’s decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court paves the way for a private corporation to profit from a vital public resource for decades to come” Nisha Swinton, senior organizer for Food & Water Watch, said in a statement. “The arrangement to sell off hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day to Poland Spring … is a profound loss for Maine’s citizens. Water is a basic right. No private company should be allowed to rake in profits from water while leaving a local community high and dry.” Today that deal was upheld by Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court, essentially cutting off activists’ last attempts to scuttle the deal. There has never been a contract that ties up local water resources for such a long period of time in American history. Water activists worry that this could set a precedent for future corporate attempts to take water from rural towns for extended periods of time.

It has been a long debate bewteen Nestlé and the residents of the town Fryeburg

Back then residents were also disappointed by the judges decisions. When Nestlé sued the residents of Freyburg for the fifth time and won. Back in May 2005, local residents were largely silent when multinational Nestlé Waters asked for permission to dig a well and extract water to be pumped underground to a silo in East Fryeburg. The silo would serve as a tanker-truck filling station to send the water on its way to a bottling facility. Selectmen issued the permit, and residents passed a tough ordinance a year later giving the town the right to shut the extraction operation down if it was shown to be harming the underlying aquifer. Since then, Fryeburg has been torn apart by the battle between “pro-” and “anti-Nestlé” forces and a series of lawsuits and appeals.


After Nestle built a nearby bottling plant, Nestlé – in this cause in the guise of Poland Springs water – wanted to drill a new well in nearby Denmark, ME, and pipe water to a water-loading station in a Fryeburg residential area. At first the town planning commission said yes, then reversed themselves due to impacts on the town: noise, traffic, pollution, etc. To say Nestlé was unhappy is an understatement. They’ve sued and appealed the town five times. Watch the video and see how things

were going on. (Please take into consideration that the following videos were published in the past and therefore some statements are no longer current.)

The Fryeburg situation can only be described in terms of disgrace, and it’s fast becoming an albatross around Nestlé’s neck. The loading station delivers little in the way of economic return to the small town, yet the town’s suffering the kind of social strife and polarization that always seems to accompany Nestle’s attentions. Nestlé’s operatives are skilled at framing local disputes about Nestlé bottling plants in “pro-business vs no-business” terms, even when it’s clear the issue is one of local control over resources vs handing control to a Swiss multinational.

“I’d gather Nestle’s goal isn’t so much a legal victory as a financial one; repeated litigation serves the dual purposes of bankrupting small towns – and serves as a warning to opponents who are considering fighting the world’s largest food and beverage multinational. While the little town of Fryeburg, Maine isn’t the only example, it’s fast becoming (sadly) one of the most extreme. “

– Stop Nestle Waters

5th lawsuit in favor of Nestlé

After 4 permit refusals of the court, the 5th lawsuit – concerning, among others, the planned 2nd pump station in Fryeburg – went up to the high court of the state of Maine. It was a long debate between Nestle and the residents of Fryeburg, but in the end, the town defeated. Nestlé won the trial. Only the right to limit the number of truck loads was given to the residents – 36,000 additional loads for now. People in Fryeburg are disappointed.

whether it was appropriate for commissioners who later recused themselves to participate in hearings establishing the evidence that would play a part in the case. Both alternate commissioners agreed with the companies that the deal provides the water utility “a reliable source of income” that helps keep down rates for other customers. Poland Spring issued a statement Thursday [edit: May 2016] echoing that point, saying the deal would provide Fryeburg Water Co. steady revenue and retain their ability to limit Poland Spring’s withdrawals in cases of water shortages or emergencies. It said that it will also continue to provide withdrawal reports to town officials in Fryeburg and to the town’s third-party hydrogeologist. “These reports provide valuable information to ensure the Wards Brook aquifer continues to be sustainably managed” the company said.

“It’s very difficult to speak out publicly because it sometimes costs people their jobs.“

– Nickie Sekera

Now again, a new litigation between Nestlé and the residents of Fryeburg was decided in favor of the multinational corporation. Sekera said the people of Fryeburg are “worn out” after such a long battle, alluding also to an Orwellian oppression inflicted on anybody who dared speak out against the deal. “It’s very difficult to speak out publicly because it sometimes costs people their jobs” she said. “Their ability to be employed with any connection to the town… because people in power who stand to benefit from this deal have ways of working things.”


Nestlé is infamous for taking water from US communities for billions of dollars in profit and then dumping the environmental costs onto the rest of society. Nestlé has previously attempted to pass similar long-term contracts in two other states, but they failed both times.

“People realized what a foolish deal this was. But because they had their tentacles already so deep into our community, it was pretty ripe for this to happen.”

– Nickie Sekera

Sekera says communities need to “put our water under a public trust — that way our water resources can be secure for future generations. We need to figure out resource sharing moving forward.” She says, “Buying bottled water directly contributes to the oppression of rural communities. And we’re seeing this replicated over and over again.”

more about Poland Spring Water

 timeline of the lawsuits from 2005-2008