Houston Turns Back to Tap Water

That stuff flowing from the faucet is safe, cheap and environmental

Lapidus mentions Mexico, where Coca-Cola has a stronghold.

"All the tourists in these countries, and the upper echelons of society can buy bottled water," she says, "so the political will to insure safe drinking water to the rest of the citizens declines."

She adds that "Nestlé gets their water from springs and underground sources, usually in economically depressed ­communities."

Susan Bennett of The Grove says she doesn't want diners to feel obligated to buy bottled water.
Daniel Kramer
Susan Bennett of The Grove says she doesn't want diners to feel obligated to buy bottled water.

Lapidus resides in Boston, but went to Miami to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors, where Resolution 70 had been up for consideration. Host Mayor Manny Diaz was a main proponent of the declaration, which "encourages cities to phase out, where feasible, government use of bottled water and promote the importance of municipal water."

"It passed with flying colors" Lapidus announces ­triumphantly.

Trahan says there are no propositions on the table in Houston that address bottled water­.

"What we desire to do," Trahan says, "is see the cultural change occur. Though we have not ruled out creating ordinances, we would much prefer that the city culture and its leadership and environmental efforts encourage people to continue to use our water. We also recognize that people have choice, and if they're going to choose other water products, that they do so conscientiously and use products that are contained in recyclable containers."

Thirsty Mexicans, cloddish carbon footprints and the minutiae of municipal law may not whet the public's whistle, but one thing that has managed to muster outrage is the notion that 40 percent of all bottled water comes from the faucet — or, more specifically, from your tax-funded municipal water supply.

"People feel duped" says Denning. "We pay the money to get clean public water, and corporations are taking advantage of that and selling it back to us at thousands of times the price. We are, in effect, subsidizing the industry."

He is speaking here not of high-end imported waters, which are steeped in problems of their own, but those such as Coca-Cola Company's Dasani brand, which buys its water from the City of Houston.

Houston's Public Works spokesman, Alvin Wright, says that several companies use Houston tap water as source water, including Budweiser, Pepsi, Coke and Nestlé.

"We sell water to basically everyone," says Wright. "All the companies that make bottled water get their water from us."

Pepsi, for instance, pays Houston an average of $33,037 a month; Coke pays a monthly average of $20,380. Ozarka and Sparkle Ice each buy more than $10,000 of water a month.

Houston used to bottle its own water years ago, says Trahan. The high costs of bottling, however, forced the city to shut down the business.

Other than the beverage vending machines at City Hall, the city doesn't use a lot of bottled water. Not even during emergencies, like a hurricane.

Wright says that the water department has no plans to provide bottled water to residents during a disaster.

"In the unlikely event that one of our surface water sources became unusable," says Wright, "the utility would switch to using one of our other alternative sources, such as ground water, to supply our ­customers."

Thirty years ago, most folks if they were thirsty took a second to chug a glass of water before leaving the house. No longer.

"There are people who walk out of their apartments in New York City every morning of every workweek carrying a little bottle of water in a sling, as if it was a little baby," comedian Lewis Black rants during his act. "They're carrying a liter bottle of water with them as if they were crossing the goddamn Mojave!"

The late George Carlin also noticed the trend.

"What is it now in America; everybody's walking around with a water bottle. Tell me this, when did we get so fuckin' thirsty in this country?"

It's tough to find a single store in America, from supermarkets to mom-and-pop gas stations in the middle of nowhere, that don't sell at least one brand of bottled water. They are simply everywhere. A fact, according to experts, that explains why bottled water has become so popular. It's not so much a health concern as it is convenience and taste.

"You go to Barnes & Noble and get some chilled water, which is basically the same stuff you get from the tap, but it's there and it's convenient," says Houston environmentalist Ed O'Rourke. "It's a convenience and a sort of chic thing to do."

The bottled water industry does not pit itself against tap water. It heaps praise on city water, saying there's nothing wrong with it. Bottled water is just a healthy alternative to soda or juice.

"There's no question that our biggest competitors are soda companies," says Ozarka spokeswoman Catherine Herter. "People are on the go all the time, they're in their cars and it's something they can grab quickly and take with them and then recycle."

When asked if bottled water companies try to convey that their water is better than tap, Herter says, "No, no, no. Absolutely not. And it's sad it's sort of being portrayed as that, because it's absolutely not the case. We think everybody should drink more water...[bottled water] is just an alternative to caffeinated sugary beverages; that's really all it is."

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