They’re called First World Problems, those woe-is-me complaints that pale by comparison to real hardships faced by people far less privileged than you or me.

Last week, as I vacationed on an island surrounded by the sun-speckled waters of Lake Winnipesaukee, I came across a whopper.

Lawsuit says Poland Spring water is mislabeled because it really isn’t spring water,” said the headline above a Portland Press Herald story that, legal bickering aside, spoke volumes about the two Earths.

The one we 1.3 million Mainers inhabit is awash in clean, drinkable water.

In the other, an estimated 663 million fellow humans struggle every day to stay hydrated without killing themselves in the process.

Yet there an aggrieved gaggle of the lucky ones are, with water, water everywhere, tying up a court in Connecticut over the legal definition of a “spring.”


The class-action lawsuit was filed last week on behalf of 11 customers against Poland Spring’s Stamford-based parent corporation, Nestle Waters North America.

The complaint alleges that Poland Spring water actually is nothing more than plain old groundwater pumped from wells throughout Maine.

It also claims that lead plaintiff Mark J. Patane of Vermont has shelled out “hundreds of dollars” for Poland Spring water over the last 14 years.

“Had (Patane) known that Poland Spring was ordinary groundwater rather than ‘100 % Natural Spring Water’ he would not have purchased Poland Spring Water and would have consumed lower cost bottled water products,” the complaint states. “Sometimes he has had no choice but to buy Poland Spring Water because it is the only available option.”

Cry. Me. A. River.

Lower-cost bottled-water products? Only available option?


Just a thought, but has Mr. Patane ever noticed the tap over his kitchen sink?

Now, I’ll leave it to the courts to decide once and for all whether the stuff in those Poland Spring bottles is pristine spring water or pedestrian well water.

(Although it is worth noting that back in 2003, Poland Spring settled a similar suit by agreeing to pay $10 million over five years in consumer discounts and contributions to charity. And oh yes, the plaintiffs’ lawyers reportedly went home with over $1 million.)

Nor am I interested in wading through the debate over the relative purity of tap water – except to say that in this neck of the woods, compared to other corners of the globe, it’s pretty darn clean.

Instead, allow me to introduce Ken Surritte, founder and CEO of WATERisLIFE, a nonprofit organization that might lend a little global perspective to our water wars.

Twelve years ago, Surritte was homebound from an orphanage-building mission to Africa when he stepped into a hotel bathroom for his first shower in weeks. As he stood there waiting for the shower to warm up, he looked down at the cold water running down the drain.


“I had my ‘Aha!’ moment right there,” Surritte recalled in an interview from WATERisLIFE headquarters in Oklahoma City. “I was standing there naked in the shower – which is definitely not a good mental picture, for sure – and it hit me like a ton of bricks: ‘Ken, water is life. And the people you just left would do anything for the water you just let go down the drain just warming up the shower.’”

That epiphany soon led to a well in an African village, which led to more wells, which led to solar-powered water purification systems in over 400 locations around the globe, which led to The Straw.

It is, in every sense, a lifesaver – a durable, plastic straw equipped with membranes, iodine crystals and a charcoal filter. In the time it takes to suck water from its source to the user’s mouth, the handheld device removes everything from typhoid and E. coli to dysentery and other contaminants that so often can lead to severe illness or death.

To date, WATERisLIFE has distributed 750,000 straws where they’re most needed – places like sub-Saharan Africa and India, where 86 percent of the population’s human waste goes back into the surface water untreated.

One straw, which lasts an average of a year, costs $10. That’s less than half the cost of a 24-pack of 16.9-ounce bottles of Poland Spring at Wal-Mart.

Think about that. We’re now buying our water at Wal-Mart.


In March, the New York-based Beverage Marketing Corp. reported that bottled water just surpassed carbonated soda as the No. 1 retail beverage in the United States, with sales in 2016 jumping 10 percent to just under $16 billion.

“When Perrier first entered the country in the 1970s, few would have predicted the heights to which bottled water would eventually climb,” said Michael C. Bellas, Beverage Marketing’s chairman and CEO, in a press release. “Where once it would have been unimaginable to see Americans walking down the street carrying plastic bottles of water, or driving around with them in their cars’ cup holders, now that’s the norm.”

All because an industry – and that includes you, Poland Spring – has managed to convince much of America that clean tap water, liquid gold to a kid in Kenya, is no longer good enough for us.

And because consumers – we’re looking at you, Mark J. Patane, et al – have become so enamored of those plastic, environmentally dubious containers that they’ll actually go to court over the true meaning of “spring water.”

WATERisLIFE’s Surritte has no interest in jumping into the Poland Spring cauldron, other than to note that “we now pay more for (bottled) water than we do gas.”

Still, his organization hasn’t shied away from the whole First World Problem phenomena that now encompass everything from unheated car seats to houses so big they need two wireless routers.


In fact, WATERisLIFE has produced a jarring set of video advertisements in which Third World citizens recite First World Problems in settings as devoid of humor as they are awash in irony.

“When my mint gum makes my ice water taste too cold,” laments one girl, sitting in a dimly lit bunkhouse.

“I hate it when I tell them no pickles and they still give me pickles,” deadpans a young boy.

So, stay hydrated, fellow Mainers – one way or another. But as you do, consider that if you swap out one bottle of water for a glass from the tap each day, you’ll easily have $100 or more in your pocket at the end of a year.

That’s 10 straws for 10 kids for an entire year. And it’s as easy as going to and clicking on “Donate.”

No lawyers required.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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