Where does it come from and where does it go???
So in 2011 Peter Gleick wrote ” Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water“, an excellent book that provides a great deal more detail than I am going to provide. Peter Gleick continues to be active in the environmental arena, particularly in the realms of water and climate. It appears that there maybe a link between surface water and climate change; but that’s for another time.
In 2012 there were 173 companies bottling water, 55% of which are gathered at a spring or groundwater source. The other 45% bottles municapl drinking water and resells it under their brand name. Some top players which use municipal water are Dasani and Aquafina; brand names under Coke and Pepsi. My soruces on the top sales of the bottled water throughout the world are difficult to authenticate, but Aquafina and Dasani have both help the top sales position at around 14% of all sales. Regardless, the focus of this paragraph is that 45% of the bottled water is harvested from municipal systems, systems designed and operated to provide safe and healthy drinking water to members of the municipality it draws its water from.
So the municipal systems lose, roughly, 2.92 billion gallons of water to the bottling companies. The bottling companies do not get the water for free of course, they pay the same price as any other commercial business and may even get some discounts due to quantity of use. Currently, there do not appear to be taxes unique to the bottled water industry, In several municipal systems the bottling company is the primary user, by volume, making the bottling company a priority for the municipal water utility; a utility formed by rules and laws to provide water to the public.
I need to focus on the environmental impact here, rather than make it sound like I am ranting against big business. The environmental impact is that the water that the various municipalities rely on, infact expect to have primacy to, may be lost before they can draw from it. The draught in California, over 100 bottling facilities exist in the state and all currently active. We; people and our food supply are a part of the environment and need water to survive and we’re shipping it away from the areas that need it. With the water “gone” it is not in the watershed for future use, so many of the draught areas in California will continue to be draught areas until water is actually added back into the watershed. This watershed imbalance is happening all over the world, I am just lucky to have California as a reference.
Where ever we are allowing the bottling of water, be it spring or municipally supplied, we are loosing water as it is bottled and shipped away. The water shipped away will not go through the recycling process of treatment and reuse again. This is a greater impact in areas where the treated waste water is discharged beyond the watershed, such as the coast of California where the treated waste water discharges to the sea. We still get some recharge from rain events, but again, these too are impacted by the relocation of water as well.
I haven’t mentioned the 45% of bottled water that actually comes from a spring source, or direct well. I like to think of that as water we were storing for a not so rainy day, its a depletion of groundwater suppiles that we technically don’t need. Much of our current municipal supplies are from groundwater supplies (yes, this includes the 55% of bottling companies too). We are already supplying drinking water, and other water supplied, we are only draining these reserves for the capital of the bottling companies. These aquifers will recharge, but as we place impervious area, reroute surface water flows, ship our water away from its point of origin, etc; we limit the recharge of these aquifers that were our next generation water supply.
I am going to see if I can word this better, but it stands for now and I will comment next on how all this water we are bringing to the surface without a need is impacting our climate… I guess I won’t have an conservative readers 😉
Oh and one last morsel for thought, Nestle pays $1 for 748 gallons of water, supplied by a municipality in California. They create 5,900 16 ounce bottles and sells them to a supplier for roughly $0.30 cents per bottle or $1769 for that original gallon. Lets say a couple bottles stay in California, a resident buys it for a dollar, which in his home tap would have been less than a penny.