In Praise of Tap Water

In Praise of Tap Water

Published: August 1, 2007

On the streets of New York or Denver or San Mateo this summer, it seems the telltale cap of a water bottle is sticking out of every other satchel. Americans are increasingly thirsty for what is billed as the healthiest, and often most expensive, water on the grocery shelf. But this country has some of the best public water supplies in the world. Instead of consuming four billion gallons of water a year in individual-sized bottles, we need to start thinking about what all those bottles are doing to the planet’s health.

Here are the hard, dry facts: Yes, drinking water is a good thing, far better than buying soft drinks, or liquid candy, as nutritionists like to call it. And almost all municipal water in America is so good that nobody needs to import a single bottle from Italy or France or the Fiji Islands. Meanwhile, if you choose to get your recommended eight glasses a day from bottled water, you could spend up to $1,400 annually. The same amount of tap water would cost about 49 cents.

Next, there’s the environment. Water bottles, like other containers, are made from natural gas and petroleum. The Earth Policy Institute in Washington has estimated that it takes about 1.5 million barrels of oil to make the water bottles Americans use each year. That could fuel 100,000 cars a year instead. And, only about 23 percent of those bottles are recycled, in part because water bottles are often not included in local redemption plans that accept beer and soda cans. Add in the substantial amount of fuel used in transporting water, which is extremely heavy, and the impact on the environment is anything but refreshing.

Tap water may now be the equal of bottled water, but that could change. The more the wealthy opt out of drinking tap water, the less political support there will be for investing in maintaining America’s public water supply. That would be a serious loss. Access to cheap, clean water is basic to the nation’s health.

Some local governments have begun to fight back. Earlier this summer, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom prohibited his city’s departments and agencies from buying bottled water, noting that San Francisco water is “some of the most pristine on the planet.” Salt Lake City has issued a similar decree, and New York City recently began an advertising campaign that touted its water as “clean,” “zero sugar” and even “stain free.”

The real change, though, will come when millions of ordinary consumers realize that they can save money, and save the planet, by turning in their water bottles and turning on the tap.
Do you know what people in Africa and other parts of this world who do not have the luxury of turning on a tap and getting water would do if they had the chance to enjoy water as we do for even one day? How they would praise it, appreciate it, and look upon our wasteful consumption and greed as going against the spirits that provide that water for our spiritual and physical sustinence?

So yes, praise your tap water and thank whatever spirit you believe brings us miracles, because we are truly blessed among people to have it. Praise the fact that you do not need to walk six hours a day over rocky and dangerous terrain just to haul back a few jugs of water that well may be contaminated for your family's use that only lasts enough for them to drink and cook for one day, until you have to go out and do it again the next day, and the next, and the next... All the while fearing that you will not make it home with your water without it being stolen from you with worse happening to you. Praise that your daughters can attend school and get an education and not have to be slaves to traditions that make them haul water every day instead of learning. Praise that you don't have to live a day without the water that bathes your body and soothes your soul.

The saying goes that we do not appreciate water until the well runs dry. I then believe that people in this country will also not appreciate what they have until they are made to see the scam that the bottled water industry is and how it takes advantage of us for profit blinding us to the blessings we have. So praise your tap water, do away with the mass marketing deceptions that are causing you to be part of the problem rather than the solution, and see the light.

My next entry will be on how the climate crisis is exacerbating the water crisis in the Sudan, and also an introduction to the Amman Imman Project.

At what price our planet?