Nation's mayors to investigate true costs of water bottling

PROVIDENCE, RI, June 15, 2009 -- The U.S. Conference of Mayors has commissioned an investigation into the true costs of water bottling to American cities...

PROVIDENCE, RI, June 15, 2009 -- Today the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the largest gathering of mayors in the nation, commissioned an investigation into the true costs of water bottling to American cities. The study was triggered by the passage of a resolution titled Ensuring Fair and Equitable Use of and Compensation for Municipal Water Systems, introduced by Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and co-sponsored by nine mayors.

Up to 40 percent of bottled water comes from municipal sources, including name brands like Coke's Dasani, Pepsi's Aquafina and Nestle's Pure Life. The full cost to taxpayers of maintaining the water systems that feed bottling operations is unclear.

In some cases, bottlers receive discounted rates per gallon for purchasing this limited and essential resource "in bulk." The industry has received such preferential treatment during times of drought, even as residents of major cities, like Atlanta, have been asked to ration their own water consumption.

"Strong public water systems are one of the most important services our cities and towns provide," said Kristin Urquiza, the director of Corporate Accountability International's Think Outside the Bottle Campaign. "To jumpstart the economy and to meet the most basic needs of people in cities across the U.S., we need to make sure the resource is being managed in a way that is equitable and puts essential public needs first."

Public water systems face a funding gap of at least $22 billion each year on what is required to expand, repair and maintain an aging national infrastructure, which has catapulted the issue of how water is managed onto the national stage.

Over the last 30 years, support for public water systems has dwindled as the bottled water market has grown. Despite the fact that major brands are sourced from public water, bottled water marketing has convinced one in five people that the only place to get water is from a bottle, not the tap.

"It's critical that cities and their residents be more fairly compensated for such non-essential uses of our most precious resource," said Mayor Chavez. "The bottled water industry profits handsomely from such arrangements with cities - it's time we know what the full costs of these arrangements are to our public water systems."

Among those costs are the tipping fees for disposal of plastic water bottles and the costs to recycle non-reusable plastic bottles, which can cost cities tens of millions each year. But the greatest unknown expenses are the infrastructure costs - the amount cities pay to build, maintain and improve the equipment necessary to provide for bottling operations.

At last year's U.S. Conference of Mayors, hundreds of mayors from around the country voted to pass a resolution that encourages cities to phase out the purchase of bottled water - recognizing that such expenditures send the wrong message about the value and importance of city water. More than 60 cities have since cut spending on bottled water with many more working to do so.

This mayoral action has catalyzed statewide action as well. In May Governor Paterson of NY issued an Executive Order to end all state spending on bottled water. Illinois and Virginia have also taken measures to halt state spending on bottled water.

Corporate Accountability International is a grassroots corporate watchdog that has been challenging corporate abuse for more than 30 years.

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