- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2007

“Don’t drink the water” is a warning doctors and public health officials typically give travelers going overseas. But lately some environmentalists and city officials have been saying the same thing. Only this time they’re trying to prevent American consumers from drinking bottled water.

Their reasoning? The energy used to package and transport imported bottled water contributes to global warming. If environmentalist groups have their way, grocery shelves will no longer carry popular products like Fiji from the South Pacific island and Evian from France.

Companies like Fiji and Evian emphasize the cleanliness and purity of their water. Fijisays its water comes from a source “far from pollution” and is “designed to prevent any possibility of human contact.” Evian’s spring water comes from the French Alps. You would think this water ought tobe an environmentalist’s dream.

Instead, their bottles provoke nightmares. Allen Hershkowitzof the Natural Resources Defense Council says, “It’s ironic that on some of the labels of the bottles, you see snow-capped mountains and glaciers when in fact the production of the bottle is contributing to global warming, which is melting those snowcaps and those glaciers.”


Complaints like that have led San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to issue an executive order banning city departments from purchasing bottled water, even for water coolers.

And Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson ordered his city’s Fire Department to replace the usual chests of bottled water and sports drinks used to quench firefighters’ thirst. Every firefighter will now be given a refillable 10-ounce container instead. And, get this, two city personnel will be assigned to fill them as they fight fires. I thought only high-schoolers got the job of water boy.

Acting on environmentalist complaints,a recent ABC News investigation calculated the costs of shipping Evian bottled water. Factoring in miles and fuel used, ABC found one barrel of oil is needed to transport 2,688 one-liter bottles of water the 5,000 miles from France to Chicago. But that works out to 2 ounces of oil for every one-liter bottle of Evian. Even at $75 a barrel, 2 ounces of oil costs less than 3 cents.

Whatever the cost, any attempt to curtail trade by banning foreign imports is sure to harm American consumers and their suppliers. Consumers will be denied the products of competition and suppliers will lose the chance to profit from the sale of imported goods. Moreover, a ban on imported bottled water violates trade agreements the U.S. has reached with the World Trade Organization. These agreements require that imported goods be given “national treatment,” i.e., be treated the same as a nation’s own goods.

All this makes me wonder about the motives of the environmentalist lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. He heads the Waterkeeper Alliance, a green group that sues companies for allegedly polluting lakes and rivers. But he also is creator of the Vermont-based Keeper Springs bottled water company, which says it gives all its profits to the environment. If you listen to opponents of imported bottled water, isn’t that a little like charging for sex to support virginity?

To thwart the evil bottled water companies, some folks suggest we all drink tap water. That’s fine with me. However, the famously organic Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., is so politically correct it has begun serving tap water as an alternative to bottled water. Look out, warns the Natural Resources Defense Council Web page: “Each year up to 7 million Americans become sick from contaminated tap water. Pollution, old pipes, and outdated treatment threaten tap water quality.”

So, bottled water is a no-go. Tap water? Negative. Soda? No way: too high in sugar, packaged in a plastic bottle and delivered by a truck; schools are already throwing it out. Wine? Requires pesticides, produces waste, bottled in glass and cork; the imported kind must be shipped by freighter.

Apparently the only way to solve global warming is to go cold turkey. Stop drinking.

Stephen Albert is a fellow at the Capital Research Center.