Flowing Out By Measured Units
Preliminary Report from an Ongoing Investigation Into Sources of Bottled Water

THE BOOM IN CONSUMPTION OF bottled water is sudden and curious. Is it due to some unmentioned but collective assumption that local water supplies have become contaminated? Is it simply that bottled water tastes better? Or is it the convenience of the disposable screw-cap bottle? Either way, no product could be simpler to make, it seems, or have profit margins so high. Just put a bottle under a tap, fill it up, and slap a label on it (the costs for bottlers range from just one to ten cents per gallon).

The bottled water industry, however, is a bit more complicated than this, but perhaps not much. Its about winning in the distribution racket, but also about the more creative side of marketing: image engineering.

So what does this phenomena look like from a land use point of view? The results of our ongoing national investigation are just beginning to come in, and are excerpted below:
The leading brand of bottled water in the United States is Poland Spring, familiar in the northeast especially. The sole source of this water is an aquifer near a small town in Maine of the same name. The first spring was settled here in 1793, and soon the water was famous for its healing qualities. A large resort sprung up, with baths, a hotel, and a neoclassical temple-like building where the water could be viewed inside, spraying up from the ground onto an altar-like marble slab. The heyday for the site was the turn of the century, when Poland Spring water was touted at the Columbia Exposition in Chicago. Today, the hotel portion of the resort on the hill is still running, though it's fairly underused, but the old bath house and water temple are in a state of disrepair. Perrier, which bought the bankrupt Poland Spring company in 1980, is restoring some of the old site.

1250 Unused buildings at the old Poland Spring site. Bath house and "water temple" are in the background. CLUI photo
The modern bottling plant is located in the woods next to the Range Ponds, and the facilities are housed in the standard sprawling blue metal shed. Like other bottlers, Poland Spring can't keep up with demand, so additional water is trucked in tankers to plants in Syracuse NY and Allentown PA, where it is bottled and labeled "Poland Spring," then the full bottles are trucked back to Poland Spring, where they must originate to meet regulations as a product of Poland Spring, Maine.

One of the more popular brands of bottled water in the Southeastern United States is Zephyrhills, which is also owned by Perrier. The main bottling plant and spring for the brand is located 50 miles northeast of Tampa in Central Florida. Since the early part of this century the spring at Zephyrhills was a popular local swimming hole. Today there is a 24 hour guard posted at the fenced-in spring to keep recreators from disturbing the purity of the water. From the spring it is pumped through a half mile of pipe to a typical 20,000 square foot ozonation and bottling plant.

The Deer Park brand of bottled water, the nation's eighth largest brand and another Perrier company, is distributed on the East Coast, and is a sort of catch-all for Perrier, using extra water from any of the 17 bottling plants owned by the company in the US. Anytime there is enough stock of Poland Springs or Zephyrhills, for example, these plants bottle Deer Park, or fill up tankers bound for other bottling plants, where their water is made into Deer Park water.

1193 Crystal Geyser truck, with label showing Sierra Mountain source near Olancha, CA. CLUI photo

1192 The unmarked Olancha plant, with Owens Lake in the background. CLUI photo

In the western US, Arrowhead (another Perrier company - and Perrier, incidentally, is owned by Nestle) is the leading brand, selling the most 5 gallon bottles, and the source is in the San Bernardino Mountains, outside LA. Crystal Geyser sells more small consumer bottles however. This company has a source in Northern California, at Calistoga, and another source in the Owens Valley in Southern California. The latter is especially ironic, as the well and the unmarked bottling plant sit adjacent to Owens Lake, a 100 square-mile lake that dried up after the construction of the first Los Angeles aqueduct. Crystal Geyser trucks drive the bottled water to the city alongside the pipeline that carries 70% of the tap water to the same place. Not to mention the fact that the flying dust of the exposed lake bed is called, by the Environmental Protection Agency, the largest point source of air pollution in the country.