In this brief, author Cliff Brown examines an instance of sustained local activism in which citizens in the communities of Nottingham, Barrington, and Barnstead, New Hampshire, mobilized to protect community groundwater against threats from commercial use. Beginning in 2001, USA Springs commenced work on a large water-bottling operation that would have pumped over 400,000 gallons daily from Nottingham and Barrington. Activists fought back through state agencies and the courts, engaging in a lengthy campaign that involved petitioning, lobbying, community meetings, rallies, public protests, and a State Supreme Court case.

Brown reports that threats to community water precipitate a high level of concern and activism, even among those lacking prior experience with environmental or political protest. The campaign to protect local water united residents from across the political spectrum, distinguishing the effort from other movements that tend to speak to distinctly liberal or conservative constituencies. Barnstead’s first-in-the-nation prohibition on corporate water privatization and the passage of similar bans in other New Hampshire towns suggest that rights-based ordinances, though sometimes controversial, provide a focal point for activism that meshes well with a tradition of local, town-based politics.

Publication Date

Summer 8-2-2016


Durham, N.H. : Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire

Document Type



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