Science before water, says Poland Spring's Tom Brennan '83

Tom Brennan '83

When Tom Brennan ’83, senior natural resource manager for Poland Spring bottled water, approaches a Maine community about using their water, he’s ready for a frosty reception.

“They’re not always thrilled to talk to Poland Spring,” says Brennan, a Bates geology major who took part in a recent Department of Geology luncheon for students, faculty and staff.

Maine communities, increasingly aware of various sustainability issues, are more protective of their water resources than ever. So, to begin a productive dialog, Brennan relies on his geology training. “We ask a community if we can do the science,” he says.

  • A 2008 PBS Newshour story about Maine water issues quotes Tom Brennan ’83.
  • A 2006 Bates Magazine story features Brennan, Andy Tolman ’70, and Keith Taylor ’82 and their involvement in Maine water.

In Kingfield, Maine, for example, Poland Spring recently opened a new water extraction and bottling plant after years of studying and learning about the aquifer and its resilience. The process began when Brennan approached a skeptical local water district. “Once we began focusing on the water, a lot of the problems went away.”

Still, Poland Spring — and the bottled water industry in general — is facing a backlash these days around a variety of issues: the carbon footprint of trucked water, PET plastic recycling, land use, local control and social justice.

At Bates (which offers the Summit Spring brand of bottled water), there’s a Take Back the Tap chapter. During Brennan’s visit, students quizzed him about — among other issues — whether America could become a society cleaved between those who can afford quality bottled water and those who only have access to tap water flowing through a dilapidated infrastructure.

The bottled-water industry faces more such criticisms than other water-intensive industries, Brennan says. “Water can’t hide,” he says. “Sometimes I think if we put a little food coloring and carbonation in our product, we’d be off the hook.”

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