It seems the nation’s thirst for fossil fuels is matched only by their actual thirst. And we quench that just as irrationally as the former. Yeah, those little plastic bottles that everyone is so addicted to, and that people like me try to make them feel guilty about. I admit it–I’m a anti-bottled water zealot. Seeing cases of the stuff in people’s Costco carts drives me almost as insane as the vision I saw last fall in Phoenix–sprinklers running on bright green lawns, in the middle of the day, water gushing down the gutter. But bottled water has a special place in my scold’s heart.
- Americans drink more bottled water than coffee, milk, or beer….
- In 1976, the average American drank 1.6 gallons of bottled water per year. Just last year in 2007, the average American drank over 28 gallons of bottled water. In over thirty years, we have increased our bottled water consumption by over seventeen times.
- Fiji Water produces 1-million bottles/day while 50% of the residents in Fiji don’t even have reusable drinking water….
- 24% of US bottled water is tap water purified and repackaged by Coke & Pepsi (aka purified municipal water).
Say what you will about Coke and Pepsi, they are some pretty smart cooks for figuring out how to resell the public a public good, paid for with public funds. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what they’re doing with their other products, too. It’s our tax dollars subsidizing all that corn growing. Without the American taxpayer, there might not even be high fructose corn syrup.
But I digress. Let’s get back to Colorado and Nestle, from an essay in High Country News.
The company plans to pump 200 acre-feet of water annually, enough to supply the yearly household needs of 400 to 600 families, from springs that pour into the Arkansas River. Nestle says it will pipe the water five miles to the nearest highway, load it into tanker trucks, and haul it uphill over the mountains to its bottling plant 130 miles away in Denver.
That hardly seems like an efficient way to deliver a basic need, drinking water, to the public. But it won’t be just a basic need. It’ll be Nestle’s special brand of spring water, value added because it’s put in a plastic bottle (which will join the 2 million tons of plastic bottles sent this year to a landfill) and hauled first in that tanker truck to the bottling plant, and then who knows how far for actual consumption, using its part of the 67 million barrels of oil used annually to haul designer water to people who have somehow been convinced that the tap is unclean.
The company is proposing to pump water from a high-quality aquifer whose boundaries and recharge rates are unknown, although Nestle tells us it collects snowmelt and rainfall draining the drier, rain-shadow side of the valley.
Nestle points to data showing the historic average flows of the two springs are significantly higher than the amount the company plans to pump, and to its own pumping tests, which show no diminution in flow. But historic data may no longer be relevant: Climate models show our part of the world growing radically warmer and drier. Salida tallied just over 5 inches of precipitation last year, barely 50 percent of the historic average; this year, we’ve gotten a dismal 30 percent.
Moreover, Nestle’s pumping tests spanned weeks, not years, after a winter with a record-high snowpack. This offers no assurances about what might happen over longer time spans, or during drought conditions.
True, the company must “replace” the 200 acre-feet a year it plans to export from the valley, but that water won’t come from the same source, and as any trout knows, all water is not created equal. Water quality, nutrients and chemical “signature” vary widely.
On the one hand, you could say if America is dumb enough to buy the plastic-encased water that Nestle, and Coke, and Pepsi, have been so successful in peddling to us, more power to them. But it sure seems like some bizarre Rube Goldbergian scheme to get people to pay for this very basic need coming and going.
One of the ironies of this whole story is another essay in the same online issue of HCN from a downriver commentator in California, one of the states that can stake a claim on precious Colorado water. This essayist is arguing that environmentalists should stop trying to fight desalination, arguing that their answer–conservation–isn’t an adequate response to water scarcity.
He’s probably right, but conservation is a pretty much indispensable phase as work toward perfecting things like the process of desalination, which at the moment is an energy hog that tends to kill a lot of fish. Pooh-poohing conservation as an immediate response to the water crisis is slightly ridiculous, particularly considering that large scale desalination isn’t likely to be deployed for at least another few decades.
Which brings us back to that little, exceedingly expensive, plastic bottle of water. There’s nothing easier than conserving water by refusing to pay for it twice. Kick the habit, learn to love your kitchen tap.