States Step Up to Restrict Bottled Water Companies From Tapping Groundwater

Ocean Pollution – Floating Bags and human plastic waste in the open ocean. 3D illustration.

Activists from California to Florida have been fighting bottled water companies who tap local aquifers, pay very little for the right to do so, and end up depleting aquifers in order to sell that water to consumers in plastic bottles. Now Washington state might soon become the first in the nation to ban water bottling companies from tapping spring-fed sources.

As Pew explained,

“The proposal is one of several efforts at the state and local level to fend off the fast-growing bottled water industry and protect local groundwater. Local activists throughout the country say bottling companies are taking their water virtually for free, depleting springs and aquifers, then packaging it in plastic bottles and shipping it elsewhere for sale.”

Gaining Speed: According to Pew, lawmakers in Michigan and Maine also have filed bills to restrict the bottling of groundwater or tax the industry. Local ballot measures have passed in Oregon and Montana to restrict the industry, although the zoning change in Montana’s Flathead County remains tied up in court.

As Mary Grant, a water policy specialist with the environmental group Food & Water Watch, explained, “The Washington state bill is groundbreaking. As water scarcity is becoming a deeper crisis, you want to protect your local water supply so it goes for local purposes. [Bottled water] is not an industry that needs to exist.”

The Industry Argument: The International Bottled Water Association defends its operations as creating jobs and providing a necessary source of water for disaster relief. But some of their members’ actions have shown that they’re not always good actors.

In an email accidentally sent to the media by a Crystal Geyser exec, the company outlined paying for a secret PR campaign to defeat concerned citizens in Randle, Washington over a proposed operation last year. In the same email, the bottled water company also outlined a plan to sue the nearby subdivision in response to neighbor opposition.

Why This Matters: Bottled water is largely unnecessary if public places/businesses commit to having filtered taps where people can refill bottles (apps like Tap can already help you find nearby businesses and water fountains). Emergencies can be dealt with without companies like Nestlé extracting millions of gallons from local aquifers without giving local communities anything in return. In fact, as Grist explained, Nestlé, the largest bottled water conglomerate in the world, has made a business of buying the pumping rights to water sources near small communities all over the continent for as little $524 per year. Especially because bottled water isn’t healthier or cleaner than tap water in most cases (PFAS has also been found in bottled water).

Go Deeper: Not only do bottled water companies disrupt local water supplies, but they also create a lot of plastics waste. It’s hard to avoid buying plastic but here are some helpful tips to help you cut down.

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