Groundwater Management


Policy Statement

IBWA is dedicated to the responsible management of groundwater resources. This can be accomplished by using sound science and environmental stewardship, preventing adverse impact on the source, the surrounding environment or neighbors. IBWA supports comprehensive water resource management that regulates both the quality and quantity of groundwater, treats all users equitably, provides for the sustainability of the resource, and balances the interests and rights of those using this natural resource today and in the future.


The bottled water industry uses groundwater as its predominant source for bottling. Groundwater is a renewable natural resource that is replenished through the hydrologic cycle. The duration of the replenishment cycle is influenced by weather patterns, recharge areas and characteristics, geologic settings and other site-specific factors.  When developing and using water resources, it is essential that use is balanced with the replenishment cycle and the requirements of the regional demand for the resource.

The United States population has grown by more than 100 million people since 1960. This growth has placed demands on regional water resources resulting in concerns about water quality and availability. Such concern has been a major factor in local community opposition to groundwater withdrawals. As the country continues to grow, these concerns along with the demands for water will intensify, creating a pressing need for a comprehensive approach to groundwater management.

While all groundwater withdrawals should be managed in a sustainable and compatible manner, a study concluded that concerns about the bottled water industry’s use of groundwater are not science-based or factual. IBWA believes that no industry should be identified as a threat to the groundwater supply without the benefit of sound, scientific evidence demonstrating its impact on the groundwater quality and quantity.

Bottled water plants account for only a fraction of a percent of the groundwater withdrawn each day in the United States. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, total fresh groundwater withdrawals in the U.S. in 1995 (the latest year for which published data were available) were 27.6 trillion gallons. In 2001, total annual groundwater withdrawals for bottled water production were determined to be 6.15 billion gallons. Thus, groundwater withdrawals for bottled water
production represent only 0.020 percent (two one-hundredths of one percent) of the total fresh groundwater withdrawals in the U.S.

Regulation of Water Resources

Regulation of water resources varies from state to state. The management and use of water resources are based on water rights as applicable to individual states. State legal systems can be grouped roughly into three areas: riparian, prior appropriation and “dual doctrine."

1. The riparian system grants water rights to the owner of a parcel of land touching a watercourse. This system applies in the 29 states east of the Mississippi River and Arkansas.

2. Under the prior appropriation doctrine, water rights exist when the water is taken from the source and is used (appropriated) for a beneficial (as defined by law and court decisions) purpose. This system applies to the eight non-coastal states in the West and Alaska. The holder of the oldest appropriated water right receives priority for water delivery over more junior rights. In times of shortage, the water is not rationed but provided on the basis of seniority (first in time, first in right).

3. In the “dual system" states, the law of appropriation has been superimposed on a preexisting system of riparian rights and each state reconciles the issues individually. The "dual system" is used in 12 states.

Water rights are also governed in a number of states by interstate and/or international treaties and compacts. As an example, the Great Lakes Water Resources Development Act regulates large diversions of water through a cooperative agreement with the five contiguous states and the two Canadian provinces along the Great Lakes. In addition, a number of states that share a common watershed have developed processes (compacts) to jointly address the management of their common water resources.

Guiding Principles of Comprehensive Groundwater Resource Management

IBWA believes that comprehensive groundwater resource management must be supported by a foundation of sound science, which provides for projections of use and determines the limitations of the resource base. Such comprehensive resource management planning and policy must also incorporate a capability to resolve conflicting interests based on the principle of equitable partition of the resource.
IBWA offers the following guiding principles as the foundation for executing a comprehensive groundwater resource management policy and plan.

Scientific documentation - The primary effort of protecting and managing groundwater resources must be based on a solid foundation of appropriate and reasonably applied science. The flux, flow, recharge rate, surface water influence and impact, zone of contribution, and other factors affecting a groundwater resource must be analyzed and considered in the design of a management plan. The entire aquifer must be viewed within the context of science supported by empirical data. Advanced research techniques and the collection of baseline data of groundwater resource characteristics and source use must be utilized to assist in the analysis and design of groundwater management policies.

The plan shall be comprehensive and multi-jurisdictional - Effective management of a groundwater resource must be multi-jurisdictional by its very nature. Watersheds, streams, rivers and aquifers are not contained by local political boundaries (city, municipal, county, etc.). Local control of the management of groundwater resources cannot effectively address the impact of withdrawals from an aquifer that flows through many local jurisdictions. In addition, the multi-jurisdictional approach to management of groundwater resources will prevent the fragmentation of permitting authority and overlapping management of the resources.

Identify the quality and quantity of the groundwater - In developing a comprehensive groundwater resource management program, the impact of use on quantity and quality must be fully assessed. Quantitative measures on the impact from various influences on groundwater resources must be developed and incorporated into any groundwater resource management approach. This includes withdrawal reporting and permitting, surface water impacts of groundwater withdrawals, “water budgeting,” and well siting. By using quantitative measures, the permitting of water withdrawals can be more equitably managed through comprehensive understanding of the impact of the withdrawal on the total aquifer.

Consider all users in an equitable manner - Requests for water withdrawals must be reviewed under objective criteria that are based on science. Allocation of water resources should not be subject to requirements exceeding those applied to users of similar quantities and quality, such as moratoriums of new or increased permits for only bottled water facilities. All users must be treated in an equitable manner with an emphasis on providing priority use of the groundwater resource for human consumption.

Provides for the sustainability of the resource - A comprehensive groundwater resource management program should provide for the sustainability of the aquifer to meet current and future needs. Human consumption is recognized as one of the highest and best uses of groundwater by many states as evidenced in many drought plans. Bottled water is an efficient means of meeting human needs with approximately 87% of the water withdrawn for bottling being consumed by humans.

Balance the rights of use against future needs for the resource - By moving to a scientific basis supported by acceptable quantitative measurements, the balance of competing interests may be better evaluated and lead to beneficial conflict resolution that supports the rights equitably for all interested parties. It is essential for each user of groundwater to act as a steward of this renewable water resource in order to maintain both quality and quantity of the source and the system at large.


IBWA’s position on various proposals for government regulation will be based on the above set of principles. IBWA advocates comprehensive groundwater management policies that are based on sound science and that consider and treat all users equitably. IBWA believes that only through this approach to groundwater resource management can the water needs of the population and the environment be effectively addressed.