(BEING CONTINUED FROM 17/06/16)
Overall, bottled water is not horrible, and tap water is not horrible, but both have their own faults that cause consumers to choose to drink one or other. Both bottled and tap will require extreme amounts of reform to produce high quality water that is also environmentally conscious. “Bottled water does have its place-it’s useful in emergencies and essential for people whose health can’t tolerate even filtered water. But it’s often no
better than tap water, its environmental and social price is high, and it lets our public guardians off the hook for protecting watersheds, stopping polluters, upgrading treatment and distribution infrastructure, and strengthening treatment standards,” (Royte, 2008, p. 225).
There is not just one problem here, there are multiple that must be addressed. “Those of us who live in the richer nations of the world are buying more and more bottled water because we increasingly fear or dislike our tap water, we distrust governments to regulate, monitor, and protect public water systems adequately, we can’t find public fountains anywhere anymore, we are convinced by advertisers and marketers that bottled ater will make us healthier, thinner, or stronger, and we’re told that it is just another beGning consumer ‘choice,’” (Gleick, 2010, p. 171).
Municipal water systems need to be updated and watersheds need to be protected to help increase our trust and safety with drinking tap water. Bottled water needs stricter laws and regulations to offset its environmenta and health consequences. Both changes would require enormous amounts of time and money.
But isn’t our drinking water and our planet worth it? If we are not allowed access to a basic necessity of life, how could we trust our governments? They have to drink this water too. It does not just affect the consumers, it affects the producers too. They are not exempt from being exposed to BPA, PET, and Cryptosporidium because they are going to get thirsty at some point, and what they get to drink is what the public gets to drink.
The American public is moving in the right direction though, it just might take a while to actually get there. “Sales are slowing, and in some places even falling, for the first time since the modern bottled water industry began,” (Gleick, 2010, p. 145). People are starting to understand that we did survive without bottled water a number of years ago and that we can do it again. Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri even banned the sale of bottled water on their campus. Other U.S. schools such as Brandeis University, Penn State,
and Ohio Wesleyan University are following suit (Gleick, 2010, p. 159).
It may look like there may be a bright future, but bottlers are going to make sure that does not happen.
“As anti-bottled water efforts accelerate and threaten sales and profits, the industry has begun to respond with a growing public relations push, increased spending on advertising, new lobbying efforts to stop legislation they don’t like, and a general battening down of the PR hatches,” (Gleick, 2010, p. 159).
The Municipal Water Systems are Flawed Too
Not only is the bottled water industry flawed, but municipal water systems are as well. For the most part, the water we receive from our tap is very safe to drink, but that is not always the case. “In 2006, 89.3
percent of the nation’s nearly 53,000 community water systems were in compliance with more than 90 EPA standards. That left 29.8 million people with water that missed the mark on either health or reporting standards,or both. (Many in this group live on Indian lands, and many drink from small systems, which have the most trouble meeting regulations),” (Royte, 2008, p. 211). This could be especially unsafe to those who are in the risk category, and this would include the very young, the pregnant, the very old, or the immunocompromised. Those in this category should consult a doctor before drinking tap water (Royte, 2008, p. 221). The at-risk category is even expanded by some scientists to include children, teens, lactating women, and anyone over 55 (Royte, 2008,p. 221).
Additionally in 2001 the NRDC studied the water reports of 19 cities and 5 of them were given a poor or failing grade for burying, obscuring, and omitting findings about health effects of contaminants in city water supplies, printing misleading statements, and violating a number of right-to-know requirements, such as reports must identify known sources of pollutants in city water (Royte, 2008, p. 223). The municipal water system may
seem like the safer option at times, but it too is flawed.
In order for the country’s municipal water systems to compete with bottled water, they are going to have to update their infrastructure which will be extremely pricey. “Paying more to protect source water and upgrade infrastructure isn’t impossible. Municipal water in this country is spectacularly underpriced nationwide, about $2.50 for a thousand gallons. That consumers are willing to pay several thousand times more for bottle water that tastes good indicates we’re willing to make some sacrifices for water that actually is good.
Raising water rates is one answer; a tax on bottled water is another; and a clean-water trust fund, financed by industries that profit off of, or damage the quality of, clean water, is yet one more,” (Royte, 2008, p. 219). There are many ways it can be done. If the public is willing to spend extra money on bottled water, they should be willing to spend extra to improve municipal systems. Having to pay more for water is probably the only way to
protect and improve it (Royte, 2008, p. 209). A prominent environmental advocate even told Royte, “We already have the money, we’ve just decided to use it blowing up other countries’ water infrastructure instead of fixing ours,” (Royte, 2008, p. 219).
The money may be there, or it could be there, but is it necessary? Residents drink or cook with only 1 to 2 percent of the water that flows into their home: most goes for lawn watering, car washing, toilet flushing,showers, and laundry. Why spend millions to bring water up to high standards, if so little is actually consumed?
(Royte, 2008, p. 207). But then again if we do not drink from public supplies, and let our systems decay, the worse the water will become and the more we will have to depend on bottled water for our drinking needs.
The most important controversy in bottled water is whether or not the industry should be able to commodify a basic human right. All human beings should be allowed easy access to clean drinking water. “We all have a right to clean water. And we all need to acknowledge that no water is pure, that all water is recycled.
There’s no point in skirting the issues and fudging the facts: in some places, at some times, bottled water may be of higher quality than tap. But that doesn’t mean we should all rely on it,” (Royte, 2008). Bottled water has a time and place, but it should not be our only source of drinking water. We already have access to clean drinking water, it comes out of our kitchen sink or the dispenser on the refrigerator door, we do not need to drive to the
store to access it.“Suburban shoppers in America lug cases of plastic water bottles from the grocery store back to homes supplied with unlimited piped potable water in a sad and unintentional parody of the girls and women in Africa, who spend countless backbreaking hours carrying containers of filthy water from distant contaminated sources to homes with no water at all,” (Gleick, 2010, p. XII). Sounds ironic, right? The United States has the
technology and the money to provide safe water to its citizens, while many countries do not, yet the U.S. is still not doing anything about it. The public has access to too much of a good thing and most do not realize how thankful we should be for it.
As a result, the anti-bottle crowd is not the only group to be up in arms, the religious sector is too. Clean drinking water, like air, some religious leaders argue, is a God-given resource that shouldn’t be packaged and sold. Others have gone further and declared that drinking bottled water is immoral and even a sin (Gleick, 2010,p. 138). It is hardly one of the Ten Commandments, but a good point nonetheless.
Essentially, clean water is a right that many community folk could not produce on their own. They need the full support of local, state, and federal governments to understand that it is their job to protect our water.
Maude Barlow, of the Blue Planet Run Foundation and Sara Ehrhardt, National Water Campaigner of the Council of Canadians say, “The solution lies in declaring water as a human right and a public trust to be guarded by all levels of government; in sharing information and best practices on our public water systems; and in overseeing
and protecting our public drinking water for future generations,” (Royte, 2008, p. 209). Protection has to start at the top of government with a push from the bottom.
The production of bottled water is causing residents harm, such as in the case of Flint Hills, and our environment harm.. We have a right to a healthy environment too; particularly one where water is abundant and available to everyone, but that is not the case. “Meanwhile, across the nation and around the globe, rising temperatures, population growth, drought, and increased pollution and development continue to strain water
resources- its distribution, availability, and quality. The coming scarcity will hurt the growth of jobs, housing, and businesses. Scarcity will force us to change our minds- and it is to be hoped, our behavior- about everything from landscaping to how often we eat meat,” (Royte, 2008, p. 201). The future use of water will affect more than how much we get to drink; it will define our lives and how countries are run.
Overall, we are at a huge turning point. The world is expanding, which means more people will be going thirsty while America gulps down millions of gallons of water that developing countries need more than we do.
We all need water, and we should all be allowed that right, but both bottled water and tap are going to have to be reworked and restructured to provide it. “We are in the midst of a critical transition and the path we choose in the next few years will determine whether we move toward a world of safe, expensive water for the privileged and wealthy in the form of bottled water or private water systems, or toward more comprehensive safe water for all,” (Gleick, 2010, p. 172).
Marguerite Kaye Huber
Abstract submitted for SPEA Undergraduate Honors Thesis Presentations
School of Public and Environmental Affairs
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