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Staff Editorial: Water is really all the same, isn't it?

Sun Advocate publisher

The debate over water in the west continues.

No not the water in the ditch next to your house but the water in bottles that are in the vending machine down by the car wash.

Yes some big city mayors (including Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City) are coming out against letting the personnel in their cities employ drink bottled water at work. They have ordered city managers to stop buying bottled water for the workers.

Wait a minute? Since when did we start buying government workers bottled water instead of them using the lowly fountain at the end of the hall? Isn't the water out of the tap good enough.

These mayors are complaining that it is hard on the environment to drink bottled water. First of all there is the manufacturing process of making the bottles (plastic is made from petroleum, which with any kind of refinement has side chemicals it produces that go into the environment) then the bottles have to be shipped to a plant (via some type of fossil fuel vehicle), then they have to be bottled in a plant that uses electricity to run the filling and conveyance equipment, then they have to be shipped to distribution points (again using diesel fuel) then they are sent from a distributor to stores or machines (via more C02 production).In addition the plastic is adding to our waste stream dramatically.


But after saying that mouthful about the issue of water being moved around the world, I want to repeat myself. Why the heck are city employees drinking bottled water that is inordinately many times more expensive than making employees drink out of a fountain? I don't think there is a town in this country where a person can drink the water and get sick from it. This isn't a foreign country.

I admit, after living in a number of places in the west and traveling all over the country on business over the years, local water does taste bad in some places at some times. But that is little excuse for anyone to buy water for public employees at the price one pays for bottles of it, whether it be filtered water from the water mains of Memphis or from the rain forest in Fiji.

In the late 1970's I worked in Magna in the western Salt Lake Valley. That town has some of the worst water I ever tasted. A lot of the locals had gotten used to it and they often told me the minerals in the water were good for you. At the time we had many jokes about the water where I worked. Some of the people I used to work with would say when they went to the drinking fountain that they were "going to chew some water." The guys who took care of the swimming pool at Cyprus High School would often say they didn't need to stand on the deck to clean the pool, because the water was so hard that they could walk on it to clean the swimming facility. At that time I brought water from home (in Riverton) to drink. Still when the Magna water was cold, it was still okay to ingest and it never made me sick.

As I traveled in business I did drink bottled water in some of those places where the water tasted bad. But I paid for it myself. For the most part bottled water for me is what I drink when I go out camping, for a picnic or when I am staying in some sleazy motel where I don't trust the plumbing.

It's also ironic that for all these years health aficionados have been urging people to start drinking more water rather that soda for refreshment, and when we finally find a way to do it conveniently, these mayors have found a reason to make us feel guilty about it.

In some ways I think they are right; it is silly to be trucking water all over the place and using up what is becoming scarce resources to do it. But then we could also take all that a step farther, because there are a lot of things that are shipped that come a long way but don't need to. If we follow their logic, let's look at some other things as well.

•No more buying foreign cars. Too much carbon in the air to ship them across the ocean. You should have to buy the kind of car that the closest auto assembly plant to your home produces.

•No more foreign beer. No Heinken, Corona or Sapporo. You'll just have to drink Coors.

•Wine drinkers here should have to get all their vintage grape juice from one of the Moab wineries.

•Want a new a dirt bike? Then convert a Harley. No more Japanese bikes.

•Walmart will have to go out of business. All that cheap China stuff they sell will have to be discontinued. A lot of it can be made right here in the United States, where it used to come from. Good for employment, but remember we will all have to pay more too.

All this sounds ridiculous doesn't it. But why is it a stretch if we are trying to save energy and reduce pollution by not shipping things farther than needed.

The water bottle thing may have some validity, but the sale of it is a viable business, that is not illegal. Bottlers serve a need that people feel they have. While I don't have a answer for all the diesel that is burned delivering it, I do have an answer for the waste stream. Why don't we do with water bottles, and all beverages for that matter, what we used to do? Put a deposit on the bottles and return them for recycling.

A nickel a bottle will appeal to someone, in fact many of us. I'll pick up a nickel laying on the sidewalk; I would do the same if it were a plastic bottle; and I know kids would. Economic incentives drive peoples actions very well.

Leave it to politicians to complicate a complicated situation even more.

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