Excerpt: 'Bottled & Sold' By Peter H. Gleick

Gleick takes on the big business of bottled water.

ByABC News via logo
June 9, 2010, 10:02 PM

July 1, 2010— -- With tap water safe and abundant in the U.S., Peter H. Gleick looks at why so many Americans drink their water from plastic bottles -- many of which end up in massive landfills.

Gleick, recipient of a MacArthur fellowship and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, argues for a new perspective on water management in his book, "Bottled and SoldThe Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water."

Read an excerpt of the book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.

Tap water is poison. —A flyer touting the stock of a Texas bottled water company.

When we're done, tap water will be relegated to showers and washing dishes. —Susan Wellington, president of the Quaker Oats Company's United States beverage division.

September 15, 2007, was a big day for the alumni, family, and fans of the University of Central Florida and the UCF Knights football team. After years of waiting and hoping, the University of Central Florida had finally built their own football stadium—the new Bright House Networks arena. Under clear skies, and with temperatures nearing 100 degrees, a sell-out crowd of 45,622 was on hand to watch the first-ever real UCF home game against the Texas Longhorns, a national powerhouse. "I never thought we'd see this, but we sure are proud to have a stadium on campus," said UCF alumnus and Knight fan Tim Ball as he and his family tailgated in the parking lot before the game. And in an exciting, three-hour back-and-forth contest, the UCF Knights almost pulled off an upset before losing in the final minutes 35 to 32.

Knight supporters were thrilled and left thirsting for more— literally. Fans found out the hard way that their new $54-million stadium had been built without a single drinking water fountain. And for "security" reasons, no one could bring water into the stadium. The only water available for overheated fans was $3 bottled water from the concessionaires or water from the bathroom taps, and long before the end of the game, the concessionaires had run out of bottled water. Eighteen people were taken to local hospitals and sixty more were treated by campus medical personnel for heat-related illnesses. The 2004 Florida building code, in effect in 2005 when the UCF Board of Trustees approved the stadium design, mandated that stadiums and other public arenas have a water fountain for every 1,000 seats, or half that number if "bottled water dispensers" are available. 1 Under these requirements, the arena should have been built with at least twenty water fountains. Furthermore, a spokesman for the International Code Council in Washington, which developed Florida's building code, said, "Selling bottled water out of a concession stand is not what the code meant."

The initial reaction from the University was swift and remarkably unapologetic: UCF spokesman Grant Heston appeared on the local TV news to argue that the codes in place when the stadium was designed didn't require fountains. A few days after the game, as news of the hospitalizations was reverberating, University President John Hitt said, "We will look at adding the water fountains, but I have to say to you I don't think that's the answer to this problem. We could have had 50 water fountains and still had a problem on Saturday." 2 Al Harms, UCF's vice president for strategic planning and the coordinator for the operations of the stadium, told the Orlando Sentinel, "We won't make a snap decision" about installing fountains in the new stadium. Harms did promise that they would triple the amount of bottled water available for sale, and give away one free bottle per person at the next game. 3 Harms also said, apparently without a trace of sarcasm, "It's our way of saying we're sorry."

For some UCF students, this wasn't enough. One of them, Nathaniel Dorn, mobilized in twenty-first century fashion. He created a Facebook group, Knights for Free Water, which quickly attracted nearly 700 members. He and several other students showed up at a packed school hearing, talked to local TV and print media, and ridiculed the school's offer of a free bottle of water. Under this glare of attention the University did an abrupt about-face and announced that ten fountains would be installed by the next game and fifty would be installed permanently.

All of a sudden public water fountains have vanished and bottled water is everywhere: in every convenience store, beverage cooler, and vending machine. In student backpacks, airplane beverage carts, and all of my hotel rooms. At every conference and meeting I go to. On restaurant menus and school lunch counters. In early 2007, as I waited for a meeting in Silicon Valley, I watched a steady stream of young employees pass by on their way to or from buildings on the Google campus. Nearly all were carrying two items: a laptop and a throw-away plastic bottle of water. When I entered the lobby and checked in at reception, I was told to help myself to something to drink from an open cooler containing fruit juices and rows of commercial bottled water. As I walked to my meeting, I passed cases of bottled water being unloaded near the cafeteria. Water fountains used to be everywhere, but they have slowly disappeared as public water is increasingly pushed out in favor of private control and profit.

Water fountains have become an anachronism, or even a liability, a symbol of the days when homes didn't have taps and bottled water wasn't available from every convenience store and corner concession stand. In our health-conscious society, we're afraid that public fountains, and our tap water in general, are sources of contamination and contagion. It used to be the exact opposite—in the 1800s, when our cities lacked widespread access to safe water, there were major movements to build free public water fountains throughout America and Europe.

In London in the mid-1800s, water was beginning to be piped directly into the homes of the city's wealthier inhabitants. The poor, however, relied on private water vendors and neighborhood wells that were often broken or tainted by contamination and disease, like the famous Broad Street pump that spread cholera throughout its neighborhood. At the time of London's Great Exhibition in 1851, conceived to showcase the triumphs of British technology, science, and innovation, Punch Magazine wrote: "Whoever can produce in London a glass of water fit to drink will contribute the best and most universally useful article in the whole exhibition." 4 Just three years after the Exhibition, thousands of Londoners would die in the third massive cholera outbreak to hit the city since 1800.By the middle of the twentieth century, spectacular efforts to improve water-quality treatment and major investments in modern drinking-water systems had almost completely eliminated the risks of unsafe water. Those of us who have the good fortune to live in the industrialized world now take safe drinking water entirely for granted. We turn on a faucet and out comes safe, often free fresh water. Notwithstanding the UCF stadium fiasco, we're rarely more than a few feet from potable water no matter where we are. But those efforts and investments are in danger of being wasted, and the public benefit of safe tap water lost, in favor of private gain in the form of little plastic water bottles.2. UCF To Install Water Fountains in New Stadium (video), http://www.youtube .com/watch?v=4t-44S_gebI&feature=related (accessed September 18, 2007).
3. Luis Zaragoza and Claudia Zequeira, "UCF in hot water with fans: Stadium has no drinking fountains; students thirsty for answers," Orlando Sentinel, September 18, 2007.
4. See http://drinkingfountains.org/.
5. See http://borregospringsbottledwater.com/waterfaq.php (accessed September 12, 2008).
6. Dave Carpenter, "Thirsty for utter dominance, Gatorade declares war on tap water," Denver Post, May 28, 2000.
7. See http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,91374,00.html (accessed September 19, 2008).
8. Brendan Buhler, "Convention Crashing: The International Bottled Water Association," Las Vegas Sun, October 9, 2006.
9. Brandweek, "Aquafina Employs Kudrow to Tout 'Nothing' Campaign," July 2, 2001, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BDW/is_27_42/ai_76443142 (accessed December 10, 2009).
10. International Bottled Water Association New Release, "ABC News 20/20 is Wrong About Bottled Water," May 7, 2005.
11. Quoted in Jonathan Fowler, "Study: Bottled Water Not Better," Associated Press, May 2, 2001.
12. See http://www.fda.gov/FDAC/features/2002/402_h2o.html (accessed September 12, 2008).
13. Australasian Bottled Water Association website, http://www.bottledwater.org .au/scripts/cgiip.exe/WService=ASP0003/ccms.r?PageId=5002 (accessed December 10, 2009).
14. On its website (www.cei.org/about) the CEI describes itself as "a public interest group dedicated to free enterprise and limited government," accessed December 10, 2009.
15. Fred Smith, e-mail to author, October 21, 2007. 16. See http://enjoybottledwater.org/?p=85 (accessed September 15, 2009). 17. Jody Clarke (CEI), e-mail to author, September 17, 2008. 18. The Coca-Cola Company, "The Olive Gardens targets tap water, and wins!" from http://cockeyed.com/coke/html/olivegard_article_ss2.html (downloaded August 21, 2001). See also David Gallagher, "Having customers say no to tap water," New York Times, August 21, 2001.
19. See http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/public/coke_story.html (accessed September 10, 2008). Quotation from metafilter.com, http://www.metafilter.com/ 9399/ (accessed December 10, 2009).
20. See http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BQE/is_4_17/ai_n16374556/print (accessed September 10, 2008).
21. See, for example, Brita's full-page ad in New York magazine on January 16, 1995, entitled "We'd like to clear up a few things about tap water" (22), or the Brita ad in the October 2003 issue of Ebony magazine describing their water pitcher that "turns tap water into drinking water" (146).
22. "Canadian Advertising Success Stories 2007: Brita," http://www.cassies.ca/winners/2007Winners/winners_brita.html (accessed December 10, 2009).
23. Advertising Standards Canada, "Ad Complaint Reports—Q3 2006," http://www.adstandards.com/en/Standards/adComplaintsReports.asp?periodquarter=3&periodyear=2006 (accessed December 10, 2009).
24. Brian Howard, "Despite the hype, bottled water is neither cleaner nor greener than tap water," E—The Environmental Magazine, December 9, 2003, http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1209-10.htm (accessed December 10, 2009).
25. Gregory Karp, "The Morning Call: Tap water might fit your bill better than bottled," Chicago Tribune, September 10, 2006. Also, see Kay's quote at http://a.abcnews.com/WNT/Story?id=131639&page=2 (accessed March 16, 2009).
26. Written Testimony of Joseph K. Doss, President and CEO, International Bottled Water Association Before the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee of the United States House of Representatives. Hearing on "Assessing the Environmental Risks of the Water Bottling Industry's Extraction of Groundwater," Washington, D.C., December 12, 2007.