Monday, January 18, 2021

Patrick Dempsey loves Maine's water

 Actor Patrick Dempsey, famous for his heartwarming and generous Dempsey Challenge bike rides to raise funds for cancer research, recently signed on with the notorious Nestlé to pimp for their Poland Spring brand of appropriated groundwater. Styling himself as "a Maine ex-pat," he does have a house in Kennebunkport, but his principal residence is in Malibu. And now he wants to show his affection for the great state of Maine by selling the real residents' well water out from under them? That's the wrong side in this conflict.

Nestlé has been actively trying to burnish its image with language to address environmental and social concerns. This does serve to muddy the waters for anyone seeking clarity in the debate. Community Water Justice, a Maine-based environmental group, presents the other side of the argument. 

I work with an environmental group in New Hampshire that protects the watershed feeding a major tributary of the Saco River. We've been observing Nestlé's practices in convincing municipalities to permit wholesale water extraction. We hear more from our downstream partners in the Saco River Corridor Commission, in areas where Nestlé is more active in pursuing the interests of its Poland Spring brand.

If no one lived lived in Maine, Nestlé would only need enough people there to support its water mining operations. Thus the jobs created are in somewhat of a vacuum. Yes, the people thus employed do contribute to the economy, but only because the economy happens to be there already. The people whose wells fail because the aquifer got sucked dry can spend the money they make from the employees of Poland Spring to buy some water to see them through until the situation improves. Corporate behemoth creates problem and sells the solution. Excellent capitalism, but piss-poor humanism. Going further, Nestlé benefits more from Maine's image as a pristine land of sparkling lakes, lush forests, and hardy people in wool shirts than the actual lakes, forests, and people benefit from Nestlé. The image sells the brand far, far away from Maine. That money only comes back to Maine if people there are inspired by the picture on the label to come see "Vacationland" for themselves. And then we have to put up with them as summer folk.

We are moving into a drought right now. It was pretty bad last summer, moderated slightly during the late fall, and now trends in the dry direction again as winter snowpack fails to accumulate. If the storm track shifts slightly, snow will build up in the remaining part of winter, but at this point any snow we get seems to get removed by a following warm spell. We've had two heavy rain events that removed most of the snow that had built up in December. While the most recent storm did bring wet snow to the highest elevations, it did not deliver for large areas that depend on their own snow, not mountain runoff, to build up ground water reserves. Heavy rain in winter has a tendency to run off more than soak in, because even thin to moderate snow cover, and frozen ground, direct it into surface waters and send it downstream. Even in the warm season, heavy downpours will run off because too much water arrives too quickly to percolate through the soil.

In the race for corporate control of global water resources, there's no time to waste. Nestlé knows it has to move quickly to secure its position in a competitive emerging industry. Global corporations probably represent the next stage in the evolution of human government. Government began with local and then regional leaders controlling resources by convincing people to go along with their decisions. In the beginning, it was easily done by busting heads on a larger and larger scale. The method persisted well into the 20th Century. Now it is giving way to economic leverage applied through the most fundamental necessities.

Mr. Dempsey should reconsider the use of his celebrity appeal. It might be a good time to say nothing and get to understand the situation better.


Wes said...

The previous title for this post, while potentially triggering and inflammatory, was an apt description of Poland Springs. Mr. Dempsey should be ashamed of himself for this corporate association.

greatpumpkin said...

I liked Maine water too, when I lived there. But I don't try to bring it with me everywhere I go. In Virginia, I have a filter on my kitchen tap, mainly to deal with the rust in the 72-year-old pipes in the building, and live with the taste of the local tap water that flows through limestone instead of granite. The coffee doesn't taste as good as it did when I lived in New York, but that's just how it goes. The water is safe enough.

The ultimate water absurdity seems to me to be Fiji shipping tons of its water to the rest of the world, assuming that really is in those bottles.