By Karen R. Smith

While it would certainly be correct to discuss bottled water in the most positive terms—after all, it’s a $7 billion industry in North America alone—lately it appears to be under assault as often as it is praised. As record drought conditions persist throughout the West and Southwest and conservation efforts gather steam in the Great Lakes Basin, water bottlers appear to be coming under attack in America.

In August, the Los Angeles Times ran a story entitled, “An Idyll Interrupted”. The subtitle was more to the point: “After a Hiker Noticed That a Local Creek Had Dried Up, He Suspected His Neighbor Was Operating a Commercial Spring Water Business. And Then Things Got Ugly in Idyllwild.”

The article includes a recommendation that consumers avoid bottled water entirely.

Stephen Kay, the International Bottled Water Association’s vice president of communications, responded to the piece in a letter to the editor which the paper chose to print in a heavily redacted state. I share his thoughts in their entirety here:

“The lopsided article (‘An Idyll Interrupted’) does serious injustice to the bottled water industry. Painting a negative picture of the entire bottled water industry based on the actions of, and opposition to, one local spring owner is unfair. The article did not accurately portray an industry that has continually demonstrated its commitment to responsible use and management of resources, and that practices careful environmental stewardship.

If California residents are serious about protecting and sustaining the State’s ground water, any action must focus on all users of the resources, treat all users equitably and must be comprehensive and based on sound science. Without such an approach, any industry—no matter how little water they use—might be unfairly targeted. For example, what an interesting headline it would be if critics one day set their sights on the paper and newsprint industry, which uses a significant volume of water to produce its finished product; far more water than is used by the bottled water industry.

To single out the bottled water industry—from among the hundreds of industrial water users—is just plain wrong. And of those users, bottled water producers, on a national scale, account for less than 2/100ths of a percent (0.019) of the total ground water withdrawn in the United States each year. The fact is, typical bottled water companies utilize a highly efficient manufacturing process where, on average, 87 percent of ground water withdrawn is bottled and used for human consumption. No other industry can make that claim.

What a shame that a few activists would discourage consumers from drinking bottled water. In an era in which our nation is wrestling with issues such as obesity, hypertension and other health challenges, it is imprudent for bottled water opponents to discourage people from choosing the consistent safety, quality and convenience of bottled water for hydration and refreshment. Bottled water does not add calories, caffeine, sugar or other ingredients that consumers may wish to avoid or moderate and as a packaged food product is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The bottled water industry is part of the solution and partners with other beverage producers, municipalities and recycling advocacy groups to encourage and build upon the curbside recycling infrastructure. The bottled water industry is also one of the original recyclers, as we collect, properly clean, sanitize and re-use the larger water cooler bottles found in many homes and offices. When their life cycle is complete, these bottles are also collected and recycled to become part of many common consumer products.

How unfortunate that after several communications between IBWA and the reporter covering this story, that the above facts were excluded from the article. The sad truth is that the Los Angeles Times had an opportunity to exert due diligence by accurately reporting both sides of the issue, but failed to do so.”

To which I can only add a hearty “Amen!”



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