Report Notes States Still Paying for Bottled Water

States in the Northeast have set aside or spent between $228,874 and $527,107 a year for bottled water, according to a new report "Getting States Off the Bottle" released Dec. 9 by Corporate Accountability International.

The states surveyed include Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Pennsylvania, all known for their high quality tap water.

“Not only is the spending patently wasteful at a time when states cannot afford unnecessary expenses, but it broadcasts the absolute wrong message about our high quality tap water,” said Connecticut State Rep. Richard Roy, Chair of the House Environmental Committee.

In 2008, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, representing more than 1200 mayors, passed a resolution encouraging mayors to phase out city spending on bottled water. To date, more than 100 cities have taken action to cut spending on bottled water or support public water systems as well as three states, including Illinois, Virginia and New York.

Governors and mayors are stewards of public water systems, responsible for overseeing budgets that provide the overwhelming majority of public funding for this essential public service. But the need for greater investment in these systems is growing rapidly, while public funding for these systems languishes.

A major cause of the gap in funding has been the marketing and promotion of bottled water, according to Corporate Accountability International. Marketing campaigns, such as Nestlé’s Born Better, have convinced one in five people to believe the only place to get clean drinking water is from a bottle. And as public confidence in tap water has waned, so too has the political will to invest in public water.

“Swift action by governors to cut bottled water spending can be a strong first step in restoring public water systems and the public’s confidence in them,” said Kelle Louaillier, executive director of Corporate Accountability International.

Public education campaigns like Think Outside the Bottle are, however, restoring confidence in public water systems. An October Harris Poll found that 29 percent of people switched from bottled to tap water in the last year. An overall decline in the North American bottled water market reflects this shift in behavior and attitude toward the tap. However, state action is still lagging. While each state profiled in the report has taken some steps to allocate funding toward water infrastructure – such as dedicating funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to water systems – even these steps are a drop in the bucket compared to what will be needed to close the gap.

“During these tough economic times our states need to be thinking, ‘we should only spend scarce public dollars on projects that grow the economy at large not just the bottom line for a handful of private corporations,’” said Louaillier. “Investment in public water is, in this respect, one of the wisest investments we can make.”

According to a U.S. Conference of Mayors report, every dollar invested in public water generates more than six for the economy at large in the long term.
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