Which Drop to Drink?
by Mark Luedtke
Miami Valley Water Resources
Next to air, water is the most important substance necessary for human life. Fortunately for the residents of the Miami Valley, nature provides them some of the best natural water resources in the world. Not only is the region blessed with wonderful rivers and creeks, but nature also provided a tremendous underground river called the Great Miami River Buried Valley Aquifer. According to the Miami Conservancy District, 97 percent of the residents of the Great Miami River Watershed get their tap water from this source.
Patrick Turnbull, Montgomery County Environmental Services Director, describes nature’s bounty: “Montgomery County has some of the most plentiful groundwater resources in the country. Not only do we have high-quality surface water, we also have high-quantity groundwater. This is a product of our region’s geography that was shaped by the last ice age and resulted in vast expanses of buried sand and gravel deposits serving as our vast underground aquifer.”
The City of Dayton and Montgomery County implement a high-quality system of tapping into that water supply, guaranteeing its quality and delivering it to household taps. Turnbull describes the county’s safety checks: “The County, as well as the City of Dayton, conducts numerous spot-checks of the water system for bacterial contamination. The County conducts approximately 60 tests per week throughout the system checking for bacterial contamination and chlorine residual. The samples are collected throughout the water distribution system from water sampling stations.” The city of Dayton performs 200 daily checks. In addition, officials have established the internationally recognized Dayton Well Field Protection Program to ensure local water meets or exceeds all state and federal regulations.
However, problems still occur. Turnbull reports: “The oldest of the water mains are approaching 100 years old, but the bulk of the system is in the 40-to-50-year-old range. The older mains are constructed primarily of cast-iron pipe, and most of the newer mains are made of ductile iron or pre-stressed concrete. We have approximately 300 breaks per year that our crews repair. Of those 300 breaks, less than 10% of them result in the loss of water pressure, which necessitates a boil alert. The average number of people impacted by a boil alert is 50-100 households.”
Thanks to natural bounty and a commitment to maintaining its quality, anyone who has travelled around the country can attest that the Miami Valley’s water supply is among the best in the country.
The Case Against Bottled Water
Despite the abundance and quality of local water, many people in the region buy bottled water. Convenience is one major reason. It is far more convenient to buy a bottle of water at Riverscape from one of the many festival vendors than it is to carry a glass all day and hunt down a drinking fountain whenever one gets thirsty. Another reason is profit. It’s far more profitable for businesses to sell bottles of water than to give away tap water. Some people don’t want to share a drinking fountain out of health concerns. Some people prefer the taste.
Thanks to savvy marketing, many people believe that bottled water is healthier than tap water. This may or may not be true, depending upon the brand of bottled water purchased. Between 25 to 50 percent of bottled water is sourced from tap water. Some is purified. Some is not. Some contains fluoride. Some does not. Montgomery County tap water contains fluoride.
The Natural Society criticizes bottled water for being less regulated than tap water, due to its categorization by federal regulators: “It is treated as a food in the United States, and is therefore subject to the rules and regulations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tap water regulation, on the other hand, is performed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and does not undergo the same rules of regulation. Additionally, the EPA’s set of rules for tap water is much more strict than those of the FDA’s for bottled water.” The City of Dayton claims bottled water plants are tested only once a week, compared to its daily checks of local tap water.
In addition, “Bottled waters which are sold only within one state don’t adhere to the FDA’s rules and regulations. With about 60-70% of bottled water only being sold in one state, that same percentage is basically ignored by the FDA. Government regulation, if any, is left to the state governments.”
The Daily Mail reports on poison lurking in water bottles: “The tests found traces of antimony, a chemical used in the making of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, used by most mineral-water sellers. Small doses of antimony can make you feel ill and depressed. Larger quantities can cause violent vomiting and even death. The study stressed that amounts of antimony were well below official recommended levels. But it also discovered that the levels almost doubled when the bottles were stored for three months.”
Bisphenol A (BPA) is another chemical found in water bottles that is cause for concern. USA Today reports, “According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, animals studies link BPA with infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early onset of puberty, prostate and breast cancer and diabetes.”
There is also the environmental impact from water bottles. Bottled water use increased 50 percent between 2006 and 2011. According to a 2007 Seattle Times article, “For environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the case against bottled water is as clear as a mountain stream. Manufacturing, transporting, and disposing of plastic bottles consumes oil, contributing to global warming and filling landfills. The council estimated that shipping the 43 million gallons of bottled water imported annually from the European Union creates about the same carbon-dioxide emissions as 660 cars running for a year.”
Rebuttal to Claims
As scary as all these claims sound, deeper analysis tells a different story. According to the Center for Disease Control, “The standards for bottled water are set by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA bases its standards on the EPA standards for tap water.” In addition to these standards, the FDA claims, “FDA also has established Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) regulations for the processing and bottling of bottled drinking water. Labeling regulations and CGMP regulations for foods in general also apply to bottled water. It is worth noting that bottled water is one of the few foods for which FDA has developed specific CGMP regulations or such a detailed standard of quality.” Further, since the Wickard v. Fulburn Supreme Court case in 1942, the federal government has had the power to regulate local commerce.
PET is used not only in plastic water bottles, but also in soft drink, sports drink, condiment, and salad dressing bottles. Similarly, BPA is used in plastic bottles in general, canned foods, dental sealants, paper money and more products, even water pipes. The FDA monitors these chemicals and considers them safe.
But regulations aren’t what make bottled water safe. The profit motive and robust competition ensure the quality of bottled water.
As for the climate impact, Dr. Phil Jones, director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and one of the leading proponents of the anthropomorphic global warming movement, has admitted the planet has seen no statistically significant warming since 1995 despite rapidly increasing bottled water usage.
A far worse environmental catastrophe goes unmentioned in the water debate. Municipal governments all over the country are draining major aquifers. Scientific American explains the consequences of draining the Ogallala Aquifer in the central US: “This is the breadbasket of America—the region that supplies at least one-fifth of the total annual U.S. agricultural harvest. If the aquifer goes dry, more than $20 billion worth of food and fiber will vanish from the world’s markets. And scientists say it will take natural processes 6,000 years to refill the reservoir.” The aquifer is already dry in places. Similar problems are occurring in Texas, California, Tennessee, and Georgia. This is the result of the Tragedy of the Commons, a situation in which no one owner controls a resource, so each user of the resource has an incentive to maximize use even though it will result in the resource being destroyed. Subsidizing water rates aggravates the problem by incentivizing people to use more water. Fortunately, Turnbull reports local aquifers are being filled, not drained, as local water use decreases.
One might wonder why so many people are spending so much money scaring people about bottled water while ignoring truly unhealthy and more environmentally unfriendly products like sodas. It’s because government doesn’t produce sodas. While bottled water producers don’t target tap water for competition – they target soft drinks and sports drinks, providing a significantly healthier alternative – the reality is that bottled water use is increasing while tap water use is decreasing. Supporters of municipal water production see that as a threat. This conflict has nothing to do with health or the environment. It’s about politics.
Capitalists are out-competing socialists in the water market without even trying, therefore socialists want to ban bottled water the same way they banned post delivery businesses from out-competing the United States Post Office. This conflict is a proxy for the broader conflict between capitalism and socialism. George Soros funds many organizations critical of bottled water to turn public opinion against it. Bottled water corporations fund organizations in support. Producers are winning in the marketplace. Socialists are winning in the political arena with mayors banning employees from purchasing bottled water with government funds.
Eatdrinkbetter.com offers a socialist position: “Many people drink bottled water because they don’t like the taste of their local tap water or because they question its safety. Only the affluent can afford to completely switch their water consumption to bottled sources. Once distanced from public systems, these consumers have little incentive to support bond issues and other methods of upgrading municipal water treatment.”
Blogger Vedran Vuk expresses an anarcho-capitalist perspective, “Even drinking bottled water is a step in the right direction. … Some say, ‘But look on the label, it’s just purified tap water.’ Yes I know it is. That’s why I drink it. … That should tell you something about the state of regular tap water. If people can begin to understand why they drink bottled water over tap water, why they choose DHL over the U.S. Post Office, why they prefer private housing over public housing, they will begin to understand the nature of government in all things. Once people realize why government can’t even provide good water, a basic necessity to life, they will begin to realize that government makes everything filthy and unpurified.”
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@DaytonCityPaper.com.