LEWISTON — A popular Lewiston-Auburn 5K road race series announced Friday it intended to stop using bottled water at its events.

The three races, known locally as the Triple Crown, including the YMCA’s Fit Fest 5K on Sunday, will use paper cups to pass out tap water to runners instead of the traditional Poland Spring bottled water donated by the Poland company, Mary Murphy, the finance director for the race series organizing committee, said.

Murphy said Poland Spring previously supplied the races with donated water at the request of organizers, but that organizers would no longer be requesting the donations.

“Race organizers hope to raise awareness around sustainability, statewide battles over water privatization and the environmental costs associated with bottled water manufacturing by replacing plastic bottles with water straight from the tap,” according to a news release from Nisha Swinton, a Maine-based organizer with the Washington, D.C. advocacy group, Food and Water Watch.

In a prepared statement, Ben Fletcher, the race director for one of the Triple Crown’s three races, said the decision to eliminate bottled water had two goals; raise awareness around the waste generated by the use of plastics and “raise awareness around water privatization and the need to protect Maine’s groundwater.”

“An event like ours, which celebrates health and fitness, is the perfect venue to start discussions about what we can all do to promote a healthy planet,” Fletcher said.

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Fletcher said Friday that race organizers are grateful for Poland Spring Water Co.’s past donations but decided this year they wanted to, “green it up a bit.”

Fletcher said a 200-gallon tank of water mounted in a truck would be used to supply post-race water in compostable cups.  Coolers with water would also be available during the race events. He said the large amount of petroleum used in producing plastic and the lackluster recycling rates in the U.S. contributed to the decision to stop distributing plastic bottles of water.

Fletcher said those running the race are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles, as well. 

Food and Water Watch has a long-standing dispute with Poland Spring Water Co. and its parent company, Nestle Waters North America, over its operations in Fryeburg. The group also advocates nationally for replacing bottled water with tap water in its Take Back the Tap campaign.

Swinton said her group was “thrilled to support Triple Crown’s simple, effective plan to promote the use of tap water.”

Chandra Leister, the president of the Maine Track Club, which organizes and assists with other road races in Maine, including one of the state’s largest, the Maine Marathon, said race organizers have different reasons for the decisions they make around water.

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Leister said five of the six races the club organizes in Maine are supported by Poland Spring Water Co.

“Poland Spring actually provides water to the Maine Track Club for several events each year and they are so helpful and nice,” Leister said. “From a community giving standpoint, they’ve always been very responsive and very generous.”

A message to Nestle Waters North American spokeswoman was not immediately returned Friday.

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