Debate over who has rights to water in our local communities has been raging ever since word got out last year about a possible deal between the Kennebunk, Kennebukport and Wells Water District and Nestlé/Poland Spring.
Arguments have sprung up on all sides of the issue. Some contend that this area could use the profit from water sales and also might stand to benefit from the possible creation of new Poland Spring jobs. Excess water flows through the local Branch Brook Aquifer and continues on, supporters say — why not capitalize on the availability of this resource by selling off the water that would otherwise continue on to the sea?
Others say water will be the next “oil,” and we will be frittering away a precious resource should we engage in dealings with behemoth multinational Nestlé. Side arguments focus on everything from the waste produced by Nestlé in the form of plastic water bottles to fear that such a large corporation, once tapped into the water supply, will bleed the Water District and local wells dry. The argument goes that Nestlé will be unstoppable with its deep pockets and our inability to control an international company at the local level.
Activist groups have formed both here at home and elsewhere across the state. Many are pushing for so-called “rights-based” ordinances that would simply ban companies like Nestlé from our communities. The spotlight is glaring down upon Wells, where the group Save Our Water right now is pushing hard for this form of regulation.
Meanwhile, members of the town’s Ordinance Review Committee and Board of Selectmen are left to grapple with concerns that an outright ban on Nestlé and similar corporations might lead to its own set of legal challenges.
The only thing that is clear at this stage is that there needs to be more discussion, and more study. The Wells Board of Selectmen made the right move at a meeting Tuesday when it voted unanimously to extend a moratorium on water extraction. The vote buys the town a little more time — 180 days to be exact — and should give everyone on both side of the issue peace of mind in knowing that selectmen are trying to take everyone’s concerns in stride while also doing what they believe is right for the town.