All Bottled Up

Could someone please tell me: When on Earth did water go from being an essential liquid upon which all life depends
to a commercial "beverage?"

It happened at least sometime before the Fall 2001 Natural Products Expo in Washington, D.C., where Icelandic Spring Water was a ubiquitous sponsor, including of a (yes, real) fur fashion show at one of the evening get-togethers. Though I don’t think the company found many fans among the largely vegetarian audience (what were they thinking?), shortly thereafter Icelandic Spring did win an International Bottled Water Association "Aqua Award" for best print advertising, label design, point-of purchase advertising and public relations campaign.

Jerry Russell

A recent trip to the local health food chain by the E staff had us all howling in the water aisle over the rows and rows of bottled brands from Iceland, Fiji, New Zealand, France… you name it. We didn’t find any offerings from Kabul or Baghdad, or from Piscataway, New Jersey. But who knows, maybe this will all eventually come full circle and local water will someday enjoy the same kind of popularity as do local wines and beers now—and lead us straight back to the realization that water from the tap isn’t so bad after all.

How silly can it get? The K9 Water Company of Valencia, California sells beef, liver, chicken and lamb-flavored bottled waters for dogs. You can even get all four in a combo pack "so your dog can decide

It’s really all about the marketing. The same Madison Avenue that convinced us to fall in love with cars a half century ago as the auto industry simultaneously bought up and put the trolleys to pasture has done an effective job persuading us that our tap water isn’t safe. We’re exhorted to buy the one liquid we can’t live without from private companies who dress up bottles with pretty nature scenes that contradict the true environmental impact of their enterprises.

It’s indeed appalling how we take our tap water for granted. Here we’ve created, with our tax dollars and the hard labor of many, incredibly efficient collection, purification and delivery systems to bring this precious liquid straight to our kitchen faucets. Yet somehow we’ve allowed ourselves to be lulled instead into choosing water collected and distributed in just about the least efficient way possible.

Clean water should be a universal human right. It’s God-given, and its "market" should not be cornered by greedy enterprises that suck dry our rivers, lakes, streams, aquifers and reservoirs, only to bottle the water and sell it to us at a price higher than gasoline. Contrast this absurdity with the fact that half the world’s population lacks clean water or must travel great distances to procure paltry essential amounts, that unsanitary water kills five to 12 million people per year, and that every eight seconds a child dies from a preventable water-borne disease.

Even though municipal water supplies are overwhelmingly safe, more than 20 percent of Americans refuse to drink from their taps. But if any municipal water is unsafe, let’s make it safe. And if we must bottle it, let’s get it to those who need it, not those who waste it.