Bottled water is big business and getting bigger every year. About half of the bottled water sold in the U.S. is marketed under the FDA label “spring water,” although it usually comes from groundwater connected to natural springs. (The rest of the bottled water market is primarily municipal water, treated and packaged for resale.) Nestlé is the major player in the “spring water” market, with brands including Ice Mountain, Poland Springs, and Arrowhead.
To meet the growing demand for “spring water,” Nestlé is constantly looking for high quality groundwater that meets the FDA requirements for the “spring water” label. Nestlé often looks to small rural communities eager to bring a water bottling plant to town for the jobs. But selling water is a tough sell, even in rural communities desperate for the economic payout. An excellent article from the San Jose Mercury News tells how these conflicts play out in small towns from California to Wisconsin to New Hampshire.
Concerned about these conflicts, the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Domestic Policy Subcommittee held a hearing on “Assessing the Environmental Risks of the Water Bottling Industry’s Extraction of Groundwater” last December. I was invited to testify to describe the problems with the legal framework for bottled water (download my written testimony). My recommendation: we don’t need the federal government to regulate water pumping for bottled water. Instead, we simply need the federal FDA to stop encouraging the pumping of water from small, vulnerable spring water systems with its label rules. It’s a classic case of federal regulations having bad unintended consequences.