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Towns fight to keep groundwater local

Sarah Gardner Jun 19, 2008

Towns fight to keep groundwater local

Sarah Gardner Jun 19, 2008


Renita Jablonski: Let’s make a toast with tap water. That’s the message from members of the United States Conference of Mayors this week. Mayors around the country are urging cities to stop using taxpayer dollars to buy bottled water to put in places like city hall.

Community activists regularly diss bottled water for its big carbon footprint. Some places are trying to block bottlers from mining their local groundwater. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner has more.

Sarah Gardner: Denise Hart hails from Barrington, New Hampshire. It’s the kind of proud New England town that can trace its history back to a land grant from King George the First. So she and other residents didn’t take it lying down when bottler USA Springs wanted to pump water from the local aquifer.

Denise Hart: There they were one day, applying for this permit to take our water away and sell it to Europe. That was their stated reason.

That was in 2001. A local group called Save Our Groundwater has been battling USA Springs ever since. But the company prevailed in state Supreme Court and aims to pump over 300,000 gallons of water a day.

Still, a growing number of citizen groups are organizing against bottled water companies. They worry this sort of water mining will threaten drinking supplies and damage wildlife and wetlands.

Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch says its not clear that ground water can always be replenished.

Wenonah Hauter: We know that climate change is going to drastically affect the amount of precipitation that’s available and the way that groundwater can be recharged.

Recently, Nestle drastically scaled back its plans to build the world’s biggest water bottling plant near Mt. Shasta in northern California. Residents there have fought the project for five years. But the International Bottled Water Association says its products account for only two-tenths percent of all groundwater currently withdrawn in the U.S.

Spokesman Joe Doss says the industry supports water management, but believes all water users should be treated, quote, “in an equitable manner.”

Joe Doss: You know, it seems to us that you should consider bottled water companies the same way you should consider any other manufacturing plant or any other entity that is using the groundwater in a particular state or area.

A London-based market research firm predicts a significant consumer backlash against plain bottled water. But it could be a weak one. Last year, Americans drank over 8 billion gallons of the stuff, 7 percent more than the year before.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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