Group hopes to wean state off the bottle

By Jimy Valenti
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

An advocacy group is asking the state of Colorado to turn off the thousands of taxpayer dollars flowing to bottled water companies.

CAI campaign organizer Rachel Shiozaki, Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, and Rev. Peter Sawtell.
Photos © Rachel Shiozaki

Corporate Accountability International held a press conference Tuesday calling on the state of Colorado to have state agencies switch to tap water and eliminate all state spending on bottled water. The state spent $154,000 on bottled water in fiscal year 2009.

According to CAI, bottled water causes pollution from transportation and bottling, unnecessary waste from plastic water containers and uses funding that could be directed towards public water systems.

Rachel Shiozaki, campaign organizer for CAI, a Boston-based advocacy group that challenges corporate abuse, said the state is eroding confidence in public water when purchasing bottled water. She said Gov. Bill Ritter could be a leader in promoting water systems across the state and advocate for a renewed national commitment to water infrastructure funding.

“We believe the governor championing public water will send a strong message to Colorado’s citizens to
switch to the tap and to stop throwing their dollars down the drain,” Shiozaki said.

Nationally, public water systems face a $22 billion annual shortfall requiring a renewed effort to increase support for public water, said Shiozaki. She said bottled water companies promote their products as a safer and higher quality product causing consumers to be fearful of public tap water.

Stacy Chesney, spokesperson for Denver Water, said Denver has high-quality water and supports drinking it from the tap, but for some she said, it’s a matter of personal preference. Denver Water has not taken a position on this issue.

“Denver Water is fortunate to have one of the most pristine watersheds in the nation and, as taste tests have shown, some of the best water in the country,” said Chesney. “It doesn’t get much better than Rocky Mountain snowmelt.”

Chesney also pointed out that Denver’s water costs about $2 for 1,000 gallons.

Kids get involved with sharing CAI’s message of responsibility.
Photos © Rachel Shiozaki

Shiozaki said the proposal has received a positive reaction from the governor’s office. Ritter included energy and the environment among his policy priorities, including a statewide policy on Environmentally Preferable Purchasing.

CAI said the state’s $154,000 funneled to bottled water vendors is in direct contrast to Colorado’s EPP policy. Jim Schrack, the greening government program manager in the Governor’s Energy Office, said his office supports the idea because bottled water creates a waste issue.

Rev. Peter Sawtell, executive director of Eco-Justice Ministry also spoke at the press conference on the Capitol’s west steps on behalf of multiple Colorado Churches.

“Churches have educated their members and communities about the wide-spread and long-lasting environmental impacts of bottled water, and have rejected this expansion of consumer culture,” Sawtell said.

In 2008, representing more than 1200 mayors, the U.S. Conference of Mayors resolved to encourage mayors to phase out city spending on bottled water. Every dollar invested in public water generates more than six for the economy at large in the long term, CAI points out. The Denver City Council moved to stop spending on bottled water and distributed reusable water bottles instead in 2008.

Three states have taken action against bottled water. Illinois and Virginia have greatly reduced state spending on the product and New York Gov. David Paterson issued an executive order banning all state spending on single serve water bottles and larger cooler sized bottles.

Corporate Accountability International examined five states in the second installment of its “Getting States Off the Bottle” report released Tuesday. Minnesota, Maryland, Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon spend from $78,000 to $475,000 on bottled water.

The report said people are beginning to turn away from bottled water, citing a recent Harris Poll that found 29 percent of people switched from bottled to tap water in the last year. It also said the North American water market has declined, reflective of changing attitudes towards bottled water.

Jeremy Martin, co-founder of the Louisville-based bottled water company, Eldorado Natural Spring Water, said his sales have leveled off recently, but due to a stagnant economy, not to shifting attitudes.

Martin said it’s irresponsible for the state to discourage bottle water consumption. He said when thirsty consumers are choosing a beverage it is much better to have healthy choices like water available rather than soda.

Martin also said bottled water’s environmental impact has been inflated by CAI. He said when comparing his product to other beverages water has a much lower impact because nothing is grown, manufactured or produced. Eldorado’s water comes straight from a natural spring.

Corporate Accountability International sent a letter to Gov. Ritter asking him to pledge to use tap water and to eliminate state spending on bottled water. Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, and Denver City Councilmen Chris Nevitt and Doug Linkhart signed the letter along with many Colorado restaurant owners, faith leaders and private individuals from across the state.

Jimy@coloradostatesman.com