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Are Greedy Water Bottlers Stealing Your City's Drinking Water?

Bottled water giants are pilfering water from rural towns and cities, while their products are trashing the planet and putting a hole in our pockets. It's time to call it quits.

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The Sacramento Bee found that water use went up 22 percent at the city's metered properties during the last three years of drought. (Shockingly, water meters are an altogether new concept for Sacramento.) In response Mayor Kevin Johnson told the Sacramento Bee:

"We're going to have to learn to use water smarter, which is a new way of thinking in our city where residents have tapped into two major rivers for generations. We need to light a fire under the city's efforts to save water so we can be a shining example of how to use water more efficiently instead of being a showcase of waste and inefficiency."

But as Johnson was issuing that statement he was also offering other rather contradictory ones. "I appreciate the concerns of citizens who worry about water use and conservation. The city has asked residents to conserve. The city can't ignore industrial water use. Those concerns should be discussed and addressed," he said, but apparently that doesn't apply to Nestle.

"When I heard Nestle was bringing a plant to Sacramento, I was excited. I believe Sacramento should do everything possible to encourage businesses to move here and hire our citizens," he said. "For me, the Nestle story is pretty simple. It's all about jobs. Nestle is bringing jobs to Sacramento with the company's new water bottling plant."

So, 40 jobs trumps the potential impact of untold million and millions of gallons of water, as well as the environmental impact of the plastic bottles, themselves. Even Nestle's lowest estimate of 50 million gallons would mean 800 million new plastic water bottles a year, Treehugger reported. Across the country, the environmental impact of our bottled water addiction is huge. In just the U.S. in 2007, water bottling used the equivalent of 32-54 millions barrels of oil. That's how much it would take to fuel average consumption levels in 1.5 million cars for a year.

Consumers are also often duped about the quality of water. The Sacramento plant is the perfect example -- much of it will actually simply be from the same source as tap. This is true for 40 percent of water bottled in the U.S.

Consumers are paying upwards of a thousand times the price for virtually the same product as tap and are instead putting an extra burden on the environment by using single-use plastic bottles, of which over 80 percent are likely to end up in landfills.

While bottled water companies may spend millions convincing you that you're drinking the cleanest water from pristine mountain springs, the truth is that in many cases, bottled water could be less safe for consumers. The EPA, as well as state and local governments, regulate tap water, but bottled water is checked only by the FDA and the standards are much less strict. Food and Water Watch reports that municipal water systems must test for coliform bacteria 100 or more times a month. But bottled water plants only have to test once a week. 

The impact on local water sources is a big question, too -- such as in Sacramento. "It doesn't make sense," said Tucker of his city's decision, "The city fines people if they don't comply with water restrictions, but Nestle can use as much as they want and pay very little for it."

Because rates aren't tiered in Sacramento, he says, the company has no reason to want to conserve. "Unlike other industrial water users who may use water as a part of their industrial process, like for cooling, their product is water," he said. "So they have a disincentive to conserve."