Experts say one of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes is water withdrawal. Water is taken from the Great Lakes for agriculture, industry, and public drinking supplies. Lester Graham reports there are many ways that water is used and shipped out of the Great Lakes basin, but few are more controversial than bottled water:
Experts say one of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes is water
withdrawal. Water is taken from the Great Lakes for agriculture,
industry, and public drinking supplies. Lester Graham reports there are
many ways that water is used and shipped out of the Great Lakes basin,
but few are more controversial than bottled water:
(Sound of bottling plant)
I’m watching big clear-blue water bottles, the kind you see on water coolers, are
bouncing along on a conveyer to be washed and then filled with water.
Chuck Swartzle is the President of Besco Water Treatment…
“Uh, we treat it – it’s well water – we treat it, purify it with reverse
osmosis, sanitize it, filter it and bottle it.”
Besco also bottles water in smaller containers, the kind you might buy at
the convenience store.
All of Besco’s customers are within the Great Lakes basin, so the water
will eventually make its way back to the lakes, but some bottlers
distribute water far outside the basin.
One of Pepsico’s Aquafina bottled water plants gets its water from the
Detroit River, which connects the upper Great Lakes to the lower lakes.
Aquafina’s bottled water is distributed inside and outside the basin. That
means Great Lakes water is being trucked away. It’s a net loss of water to the
That’s not anything new. Water from the Great Lakes basin in the form
of beer from Milwaukee or milk from Minnesota or any of the other
products you can think of that are mostly water are shipped far and wide
and have been for a long time, but some environmentalists say trucking bottled water
away is different. They argue it’s a lot like a recent attempt to take tanker ships
of Lake Superior water to Asia. It’s not like a value-added product that’s made
from water, it’s just water.
Bill Lobenherz is a lobbyist for the Michigan Soft Drink Association.
He says bottled water is a value-added product, just like the many others.
“Indeed, there’s a lot more water in lumber, for example, Christmas
trees, and sometimes a lot less value added to it too. You don’t have to
do that much to cut it and ship it. Cherries, baby food and other non-
consumable products like paint. What about the water we have to put in
the automobile radiators? I really don’t know that there is a distinction
there. It seems to be more of a misplaced perception than it is any kind
of environmental reality.”
“I guess I’m having a hard time getting my head around the difference
shipping water out in a truck-load of bottles and shipping it out by
tanker. What’s the real difference there?”
“I think the difference is that there’s the fear that if it’s by tanker in those
quantities, that it could be abused. If it’s in bottles, it’s really quite
controllable, because there’s so much more value added to put it in small
Not everyone is buying that argument.
Dave Dempsey is the Great Lakes advisor for the environmental group Clean Water Action.
He says the most recent debates about water withdrawals started when that shipping company
planned to take about 156-million gallons a year to Asia. Dempsey says a single new bottled
water plant trucks away even more than that.
“The Nestle’ project, a single project in Michigan that has been sited and
is operating takes 168-million gallons per year. So, the volumes can be
greater in bottles than in tankers.”
But that’s still not that much water compared to other uses.
According to figures in a report by the Great Lakes Commission, the
cities and industries around the Great Lakes withdraw more than 43
billion gallons a day. Much of it is used and returned to the lakes, but
nearly two billion gallons a day is lost. It’s not returned to the lakes
because it evaporates or it’s incorporated into products. Two billion
gallons a day makes the Nestle’ bottled water plant’s 168-million gallons
a year seem minor.
But Dave Dempsey argues there’s a more sinister concern. He believes
if water is treated like any other commodity, large corporations that can
profit from it will begin to horde it, and control it.
“You will hear bottled water companies say that they’re just another user
like a farmer or a manufacturer or even a city water supply, but they’re
not because they’re asserting private ownership of a public resource and
if we essentially allow that by not putting controls on the water-for-sale
industry now, I’m afraid the Great Lakes may become the world’s largest
privately owned reservoir.”
A recent agreement between the states and provinces around the Great
Lakes allows bottled water to be shipped out in bottles as large as five-
gallons, but some environmentalists say that’s a slippery slope. They say
corporations will soon be asking why just five gallons? Why not 55-
gallon barrels? And then, tankers.
The bottling industry says the environmentalists are making a big deal
out of nothing, and would do better spending their time teaching
everyone to conserve water better instead of complaining about someone
in another state quenching their thirst with a bottle of water from the
For the GLRC, this is Lester Graham.