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Bottled water controversy on World Water Day

By Elizabeth Daley, Bay City News Service

March 23, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - In recognition of World Water Day, representatives from the Public Utilities Commission, activists and authors gathered in San Francisco Wednesday to examine practices surrounding consumption of that natural resource.

"Our campaign is challenging the idea of water as a for-profit commodity," said Ashley Schaeffer, a field organizer for Corporate Accountability International and the Think Outside the Bottle campaign.

In addition to having detrimental impacts on the environment as water is shipped and packaged, Schaeffer said the very idea of purchasing water is unconscionable; she identified access to water as a human right.

"Right now we are standing at a crossroads because over a billion people lack access to water to meet basic daily needs," said Schaeffer.

However according to Joe Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, the ability to purchase water is also a right of sorts. He calls it a "consumer choice."

Doss said that although most beverages make use of water, there may be some people who do not drink pure water at all.

"We look at ourselves as a packaged beverage and we are competing with any other packaged beverage," said Doss.

"Bottled water is convenient, you can take it with you on the go, people choose it for health reasons and they don't want sugar, caffeine or additives so they chose bottled water," said Doss.

Doss said 25 or 30 percent of bottled water sold comes from municipal supplies- the same source as tap water, Doss, who said he only drinks water, claims he is able to taste the difference between most different kinds of water at room temperature.

Doss agreed that while we may have a choice about whether or not to buy bottled water here in the U.S., people elsewhere may not.

"Bottled water is the second most consumed beverage, within 10 years we will likely overtake carbonated soft drinks," said Doss indicating the massiveness of the bottled water industry.

"By 2025 two thirds of people will not have access to water," Schaeffer said. According to Schaeffer, private companies are purchasing natural water supplies and bottling tap water, selling it back to consumers as improved.

"There is a seven step purification process," said Nicole Bradley, spokeswoman for Aquafina.

Lisa Manley, spokeswoman for Dasani, said that while most water bottled by Coca-Cola in the United States comes from municipal water supplies, it also goes through further purification.

Both Bradley and Manley said their company's decision to bottle water was based upon consumer desires. Doss said the use of municipal water will not deplete water supplies since it uses 0.02 percent of ground water withdrawn in the United States per year.

Schaeffer calls bottled water a "recipe for profit" and said her Think Outside the Bottle campaign is working with different utilities commissions and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to cancel all bottled water contracts established by the city of San Francisco.

Nathan Ballard, spokesman for the Mayor said there is a plan to phase out bottled water in city buildings, to replace bottles with filtration systems for environmental reasons.

Think Outside the Bottle is selling stainless steel water jugs in an effort to get people to stop buying bottled water will host the World Water Challenge at the Women's Building in the Mission on April 4.

"We have some of the best water quality in the nation in the Bay Area," said Schaeffer, "The world is on the wrong track," she said, of the trend towards bottled water consumption.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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