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Lynne Plambeck: Concerns that shouldn't be bottled up

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: March 11, 2009 7:03 p.m.
Updated: March 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
If you look around hard enough at grocery store sales, you can sometimes buy bottled water in a 12-pack for about the same amount you would pay for an equivalent amount of gas at $3 a gallon. This is a bargain when compared to buying a single bottle of Desani or Aquifina or any of the numerous other brands at $1 or higher, or equivalent to around more than $8 a gallon.

Now, I am the first to admit that bringing our tap water down from Northern California, pumping it over the Tehachapis and counting the massive use of energy to move it, the cost to build the aqueduct, pumping stations, dams and filtration plants needed to get it to our houses, is not cheap. As we use more and more state water to supply all the new housing approvals in the Santa Clarita Valley, our water bills will continue to go up. But it doesn't work out to $8 dollars a gallon. In fact, my most recent water bill was $46.50. At $8 per gallon that same bill for 17,204 gallons of water delivered to my house would have been a mere $137,632, and I doubt they would have delivered all those bottles.

Oh, the bottled water tastes better, you say. Or it's safer, cleaner and more convenient. Like the smoking ads of old, advertisers try to convince us that it is hip to have their brand of bottled water at the gym, or chic to be drinking it while driving a fast convertible with the top down, or new-wave healthy to have it on our table at the restaurant or health bar. We are slimmer, sexier, prettier, healthier or more muscular, if we drink their brand of bottled water.

Are we really falling for the advertising hype? I guess so. What else would explain the massive amount of money spent on bottled water?

Environmentalists have railed against bottled water for many years and for many good reasons. First, bottled water is not required to be tested for its health safety the way water companies must test water supplied to our homes, so who knows what the heck is really in it? (Remember the Perrier recall for Benzene pollution several years ago?) The manufacture of all those plastic bottles uses oil and creates air pollution (those nasty greenhouse gases that cause us to worry about climate change). Then those pesky and expensive bottles must be transported by truck to stores, again using oil and creating air pollution. And lastly, the empty bottles create a massive landfill problem. Even the small percentage that is recycled will again create air pollution as they are melted and re-extruded for a new use.

And that's not all. In their efforts to meet this new hip need that the bottled water industry, including Coca-Cola, Nestle and Pepsi have created for our society, the bottling companies drain streams dry and deplete the water supply of local communities.

So far this has happened in California in communities such as Idyllwild and McCloud. Nestle tried it in Gorman, too, but were stopped for now by local activists and a concerned judge.

But now, just to add insult to injury, it seems that many of those fancy bottles just contain tap water anyway. In a recent story by the Associated Press and carried in The Signal last week, it turns out that Desani and Aquafina are just bottled and filtered tap water. Other water bottlers use the same sources as local water companies, but bring it to you in a bottle rather than a pipeline.
Want to have some fun? Read the label on your favorite brand.

That's why SCOPE recently voted to endorse AB 301, a bill by Assemblyman Fuentes aimed at disclosure of bottled water information. It would require that each retailer of bottled water, whether a bottler, hauler or water machine dispensary, disclose:

n The total volume of water bottled or sold either for wholesale or retail use;

n Whether the source of the water bottled or sold is a public or private water agency or an artesian well, lake, river, spring or well, as appropriate;

n The county in which the source identified in Item 2 is located and whether this source is privately or publicly owned and operated.

The information must be reported to the Department of Health Services, which will make it available to the general public.

This bill would give consumers the ability to be informed about the real origins of the water for which they are paying so much.

And after you find out where that expensive water is coming from, you may just want to get your own water bottle and fill it up at the kitchen sink. If you don't like the taste, you can always filter it and keep a jug of the filtered stuff in your refrigerator. You will save time, money and, oh, by the way, you will be helping to reduce greenhouse gases and stop global warming.

Lynne Plambeck is president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE). Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentally minded writers. Her column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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