By David Schwartz
PHOENIX, Arizona (Reuters) - The Grand Canyon will soon ban the sale of bottled water, responding to concerns that empty plastic bottles scattered around the park are spoiling views of the natural wonder.
The National Park Service has approved a plan that would eliminate the sale of bottled water within 30 days, after nearly $290,000 was spent to install 10 water stations inside the park. Visitors can use the stations to refill their own water bottles, which they can tote in from the outside.
Park concessionaires, who can still sell other bottled beverages, chipped in with another three water stations.
"Our parks should set the standard for resource protection and sustainability," John Wessels, the park service's intermountain region director, said in a statement.
Wessels added he expects the new policy to have "minimal" impact on visitors who flock to the crimson-hued canyon in northern Arizona.
Some 4.5 million tourists visit the Grand Canyon each year, and officials worry about litter found on the rim and inner canyon spoiling the park and marring its views. They estimate the disposable bottles account for 20 percent of the park's waste and 30 percent of its recyclables.
Similar bans are in effect at Zion and Hawaii Volcanoes national parks.
The ban became controversial when it was delayed in late 2010 after what the public interest group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility charged was pressure by The Coca-Cola Company. The company and park officials have denied such a claim.
Jeff Ruch, the group's executive director, said he was pleased with the decision to implement the ban, saying it "clearly shows intense public scrutiny forced this U-turn."
Susan Stribling, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, said the company does not condone such bans, but will continue to work to "find a solution that is in the best interest of the parks and the public."
Stribling said the company favors "constructive solutions" such as creating more recycling programs as was done in the National Mall in Washington.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta)