As Calgarians, we don't need to avoid contracting embarrassing diarrhea or potentially fatal viruses. Yet, bottles of water are on display at every vending machine and sell fairly well--a frightening trend that has emerged as we have become increasingly reliant on private sources of water. Recognizing this, the United Church of Canada drafted a resolution requesting its members stop buying bottled water in protest of the privatization of water supplies. Perhaps it is time to ask "what would Jesus do?"
Calgary has one of the best water treatment plants in Canada and yet Calgarians still choose to drink water from bottles rather than the taps they finance with their taxes. Drinking bottled water from vending machines is a wasteful habit too. Besides the greenhouse gases generated when the water is shipped from the source to the bottling site to the consumer, the bulk of the empty bottles end up in landfills. Recycling, though better than tossing the bottle in a trash can, still isn't the best option when the product is unnecessary in the first place. There are places in the world where drinking bottled water is a safer alternative than tap water, but Calgary isn't one.
Though a testament to the strength of our own water systems, having major companies buy our tap water is more costly to tax payers than it seems. Under the Dasani brand, Coca-Cola filters water from Calgary and Brampton, Ontario, one more time, then turns around and labels it "purified water." Coke buys our water at wholesale prices--cheaper than we pay for it--and then sells it back to us after ludicrous mark-ups. This extra use of our water is a drain on our expensive infrastructure, even if it pads an already overloaded city budget.
If people bought a reusable hard plastic bottle and filled it themselves, they'd be providing the same service for free instead of handing money to major companies like Coca-Cola. If worry persists about the cleanliness of the water, filters can be attached to household taps to provide cleaner water in the home at a much cheaper rate than what is typically paid for bottled water. Though that does sound like a lot of work, it is a far more sensible alternative. Apparently, the price of laziness is about $1.50 per 591 mL.
The overall trend of privatization is also rather disturbing--especially when individuals are profiting at the cost of society as a whole. A recent application to the British Columbia government by Mike McCarthy, a real estate mogul based out of Sicamous, for a water license to extract one million imperial gallons of water a day from four Adams Lake creeks has drawn protest from the Sierra Club of Canada. The group warns that granting such a license could set a dangerous precedent, allowing water to be treated as a commodity under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Though there is a need for clean drinking sources world-wide, that need isn't present in international consumers who can afford to pay for bottled creek water shipped straight to them from the B.C. Interior.
We can't allow someone to profit in the short term from the long term destruction of our fresh water drinking sources.
As the Sierra Club notes, "extracting such high volumes of water will impede water flow in the Adams Lake watershed. It will also negatively affect wildlife habitat, particularly salmon."
The mistaken attitude towards water is that it's a limitless resource there for our misuse. Canadians are especially terrible when it comes to this attitude. According to Natural Resources Canada, we tend to waste more water than any other country in the world. Unfortunately, because we are surrounded by so many fresh water sources, it isn't hard to see why we can so easily abuse an increasingly important resource. Maybe if we paid $3 a litre for our water, we would realize the importance of water in the same way that paying over a dollar per litre for gasoline has forced us to become a more energy conscious society. With recent trends towards privatization, perhaps water will one day cost that much. Until then, however, we should take advantage of the clean water provided to us for free and stop filling garbage cans and recycling bins with unnecessary bottles.