News Picks

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Whose Water is it Anyway?

A letter to the editor of the Detroit News from the President of the International Bottled Water Association restates all the old canards in defense of the private capture for profit of the public's water. Here are a few:

1) The headline implies that packaging and selling water from springs or rivers or lakes is just another 'use' like any other. But common law has traditionally linked the right to use water with its use in the watershed, not its export. Selling water to distant customers for profit is a radically different concept, and not a traditional use.

2) "Proponents of the bills are seeking to make radical changes to the law that are not based on sound science." Where is the sound science that justifies the current Michigan law's distinction between unlimited amounts of water leaving the state in containers less than 5.7 gallons (not a diversion) and water leaving the state in containers 5.7 gallons or greater in the same volumes (diversion)? A spring or river won't know the difference.

3) "Interestingly, the International Joint Commission determined in its 2000 final report to the U.S. and Canadian governments that the Great Lakes basin imports about 14 times more bottled water than it exports and is a net importer of bottled water." Interestingly, this was before Nestle's large-scale operations began in Michigan in 2001. Even more importantly, the issue is not current ratios of export vs. import but the potential for major water taking expansion in an industry which has been growing 5-10% per year.

4) "The bills ignore the fact that bottled water is a consumed use of ground water, as is the case with other beverage and food producers. The bills change bottled water into a diversion of water. If bottled water is produced according to Food and Drug Administration regulations, it is without question a product, and all products should be treated equally." Water is an ingredient in beverages and food; water itself is claimed to be the 'product' in bottled water.

Michigan's conservation and environmental community is right to seek reinstatement in Michigan law of the centuries-old principle that water belongs to the public and there is no right to export it for sale.

Dave Dempsey