LINCOLN, Maine — Chris Palmer stuck his head into a rush of water pouring from a wellhead and took a long drink. He had just finished digging a well on Lincoln Water District land off Route 2 on Tuesday, and his sip was part of a ritual.
“I give every well I dig a taste test,” Palmer said. “It’s the pride of ownership.”
The water, Palmer said, tasted great, but taste tests alone will not determine whether Poland Spring will build a $50 million bottling plant and bring 50 to 100 jobs to the struggling Lincoln Lakes region. Among other things, the company is reviewing several potential plant sites around the state and studying the economics of an expansion to determine its profitability.
Palmer’s company, East Coast Explorations of Hallowell, has been digging test wells in Greenbush, Lincoln, Milford and Passadumkeag for Poland Spring since February. Tuesday it finished its 12th well, and has another dozen to dig, Palmer said.
It takes East Coast 1½ days to finish a well. Its workers drill past several layers of dirt and sand into glacier water deposits that haven’t seen sunlight in about 10,000 years, in order to map specific aquifer depths and access points.
Extensive primary well testing has shown that the Lincoln area has enough water to support a bottling plant. The test wells, which are 50- to 70-feet deep, are dug for insurance ― supplemental sources of water to complement the primary wells the water district already has.
They will help Poland Spring determine if the district can supply customers and the company if disaster hits the primary well, said Thomas Brennan, the company’s senior natural resource manager.
Poland Spring will administer more than 200 chemical composition tests, some conducted in places as far away as France, to see whether the secondary wells meets its purity standards, Brennan said.
Brennan said he has little doubt that the area can supply a plant. Maine’s average rainfall annually provides 24 trillion gallons, according to Maine Geological Survey. Poland Spring consumes 900 million gallons annually, Brennan said.
The company’s sources are located in nine Maine locations — two in Poland plus single sites in Hollis, Kingfield, Dallas Plantation, Pierce Pond Township, Fryeburg, Denmark and St. Albans, Brennan said.
A Lincoln bottling plant would likely require 175 million gallons annually. That’s the yearly average consumed by a paper mill the district supplied for decades before it closed in 2015, district Superintendent Jeff Day said.
“You don’t want to invest all that money in a single source. We are finding it. It is still early, but I’m optimistic,” Brennan said.