Group urges 4 states: 'Think outside the bottle'

AP News
Posted: Dec 10, 2009 10:42 AM

A Boston-based consumer and environmental group is bringing its campaign against bottled water to four states, urging them to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from strapped budgets by ending their purchases of water in plastic containers.

Corporate Accountability International took aim at state agencies' purchases of bottled water in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont. It urged the states to have their public employees drink tap water and step up efforts to protect public water supplies.

"Public dollars spent to support the private water interests robs the public water system of available dollars, nearly $12 billion in the U.S. in 2007," said Vermont state Rep. Jim McCullough. "Many of these dollars could instead be spent to be sure tap water is safe."

Sarah Holzgraf of Corporate Accountability said the group focused on the four states because they're in the Northeast, near its Boston headquarters, have activist members of the group and ample high-quality public water supplies. New York was not included because it already has taken some of the steps the group is seeking, she said.

Among the group's complaints about the bottled water industry:

_ Environmental impacts of the energy consumed and waste created by the production, packaging and transport of bottled water.

_ Declining support for public water supplies: The report noted that the federal share of support for local water systems has declined from 5 percent in the 1970s to 5 percent today. A November report by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation's public drinking water infrastructure a grade of D-minus, Corporate Accountability said.

_ Depletion of aquifers that support public water supplies for private profit.

The campaign brought rebuttals Wednesday both from state officials responsible for ordering bottled water and from the bottled water industry.

Tom Lauria, vice president for communications at the International Bottled Water Association, called claims of aquifer depletion "a science-fiction fantasy." He said the bottled water industry is using a tiny fraction of groundwater supplies, easily offset when they are recharged by precipitation.

"Frankly, bottled water is popular because it is portable, it is convenient and it isn't tap water," Lauria said. "Tap water is all well and good but there are people who don't like the smell and flavor of chlorine and would prefer a natural spring water or a purified water."

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell has ordered state agencies to cut out bottled water except in locations where piped water is not available, such as state bridge construction sites, said spokesman Adam Liegeot. Previously, the state had been spending about $500,000 a year on bottled water, Corporate Accountability said. Liegeot said he did not know how much the state is spending now.

But bottled water still is available in the Capitol in Hartford, as well as an adjacent legislative office building, officials noted.

Eric Connery, facilities director for the Office of Legislative Management, said the office spent $17,600 on bottled water in the fiscal year in the Capitol complex.

"I think in some cases it's a little bit of a convenience," Connery said. "In the case of the Capitol, there are not very many water fountains available. It's a historic building."

Asked about the report at a news conference Wednesday, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said, "I'll look into it. ... It's a good point."

Ed Myslewicz, spokesman for the state Department of General Services, said Pennsylvania spends $300,000 a year on bottled water, mostly in 5-gallon recyclable jugs. He said the department has concluded that it is more cost-effective to order bottled water than to spend millions of dollars upgrading plumbing in the Capitol buildings that is often 90 or 100 years old and includes deteriorating lead pipes.

In Massachusetts, whose annual bottled water bill runs about $527,000, officials are looking to reduce bottled water use under an executive order to make state government greener signed by Gov. Deval Patrick earlier this year, said Lisa Capone, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Vermont's commissioner of the state Department of Buildings and General Services, Gerry Myers, said he and other officials had looked into eliminating bottled water in state offices, which costs about $205,000 a year. But with recent layoffs and pay cuts for the state workers, it was decided "we were beating up on employees enough."

But Conor Casey, lobbyist for the Vermont State Employees Association, said Wednesday the union wouldn't mind making one more sacrifice.

"We understand it's difficult economic times," Casey said. "Our members are willing to make this sacrifice. Our top priority is preserving public services."


Associated Press Writers John Curran in Montpelier, Vt., and Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pa., contributed to this report.