On Water and Hot Air

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If you know me at all, you know that the better part of my life is spent on or near the water. Most of the things I enjoy doing – hunting, fishing, swimming . . . living – are all dependent on abundant, unpolluted water. So count me as a big fan of H20.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work with some really talented water policy professionals in the public sector, along with equally talented geologists, engineers, and attorneys in the private sector. I don’t claim to be any of those things, but I do have a pretty good working knowledge about the challenges we face when it comes to water.

I’ve also worked in politics and advertising, so I have a pretty good eye for BS, too. And let me tell you, nothing lights up my Crap-Detector™ faster than a new crusade against bottled water.

Folks, if you don’t believe another word I say, believe this: bottled water is not a problem. It accounts for a tiny fraction of all water use in the US, it has the lightest carbon footprint of any packaged beverage on the market, and it’s better for you than beer, coffee, sodas, or energy drinks. Oh, and call me if you see somebody washing their car or watering their lawn with it.

Not destroying the plant.

Not destroying the planet.

Is it a waste of money? Maybe. If I’m sitting here in my living room sucking down a bottle because I don’t want to get a glass and put ice in it, then probably so. On the other hand, if I’m driving through Tampa, where the water tastes like it’s been drunk already, then a buck for a bottle that isn’t rancid is a pretty good deal.

Is it a luxury? Of course. Now, look around your house. Anything you see that wouldn’t be found in a jail cell is also a luxury. But hey, if you want to spend your hard-earned dollars on ceramic koala bears, Snuggies, or an oil-on-velvet Elvis, that’s your right. And it’s my right to buy bottled water if I want.

Believe it or not, there are efforts across this country to ban bottled water. Mostly these are places with lots of college kids and very few hurricanes or other natural disasters. I can give you a long list of things that should have been banned when I was at FSU and bottled water wouldn’t make the top 100. (Anybody remember bladder-bust nights?)

As a note of disclosure, for several years one of my clients was America’s largest spring water bottling company. I’ve had a different job for the last few years, so I don’t have to defend the company or the industry any more. I don’t have to, but I do because I hate seeing a trendy, misguided witch hunt take our attention away from the very real threats of over-development, loss of wetlands and groundwater contamination.

It irks me that some bright, well-intentioned person in Atlanta right now won’t drink bottled water, but has no problem running his sprinklers seven days a week. He thinks he’s saving Planet Earth even as he’s unwittingly helping destroy the Apalachicola River.

And that’s the problem with this whole us-versus-them mindset on public policy. It’s like the house is burning down while we’re fighting over the thermostat. Or as the Bible puts it, we’re swallowing a camel while straining out a gnat.

Safeguarding our water supply while protecting our natural treasures isn’t a war of good versus evil. It’s not a battle that we can win by signing a petition or by taking up some feel-good cause. It’s an ongoing balancing act that takes cooperation among a lot of different groups who all have a vested interest in the outcome. We have to get corporate, agricultural, municipal, and recreational water users to all agree on a plan that makes sense. That’s not going to happen if we insist one group is the mortal enemy of the planet.

As much as I cuss the Corps of Engineers for being stingy with Lake Lanier, I know that they’re not intentionally trying to kill off our oyster beds. They’re simply representing one group of stakeholders. (The wrong one, but that’s beside the point.) My goal isn’t to make Atlanta go away, just to see the city and the region get more serious about conservation.

The best thing all of us can do is focus our energy where it will do the most good and not just where it will gain the most attention. If you care about water, I encourage you to take the time to study the issues and understand the context. You’ll find a lot of the alarmist rhetoric simply isn’t true. You’ll also see some very tangible efforts that need and deserve your involvement. (Water-quality monitoring and clean-up efforts are just two that come to mind.)

If you hate bottled water and think it’s terrible for the environment, then by all means don’t buy it.

Just don’t try to tell me how much good you’re doing for Mother Nature, because I’m not buying that.

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