Fiji Water – The corruption of bottled water

Jason points us to an article on Mother Jones about the popular and trendy Fiji Water. Some choice bits from the article:

I sat down and sent out a few emails—filling friends in on my visit to the Fiji Water bottling plant, forwarding a story about foreign journalists being kicked off the island. Then my connection died. “It will just be a few minutes,” one of the clerks said.

Moments later, a pair of police officers walked in. They headed for a woman at another terminal; I turned to my screen to compose a note about how cops were even showing up in the Internet cafés. Then I saw them coming toward me. “We’re going to take you in for questioning about the emails you’ve been writing,” they said.

Or my favorite:

Our last rest stop, half an hour from the bottling plant, was Rakiraki, a small town with a square of dusty shops and a marketplace advertising “Coffin Box for Sale—Cheapest in Town.” My Lonely Planet guide warned that Rakiraki water “has been deemed unfit for human consumption,” and groceries were stocked with Fiji Water going for 90 cents a pint—almost as much as it costs in the US.

Rakiraki has experienced the full range of Fiji’s water problems—crumbling pipes, a lack of adequate wells, dysfunctional or flooded water treatment plants, and droughts that are expected to get worse with climate change. Half the country has at times relied on emergency water supplies, with rations as low as four gallons a week per family; dirty water has led to outbreaks of typhoid and parasitic infections. Patients have reportedly had to cart their own water to hospitals, and schoolchildren complain about their pipes spewing shells, leaves, and frogs. Some Fijians have taken to smashing open fire hydrants and bribing water truck drivers for a regular supply.

All of this reminds me of this story, which I referred to about a year ago.

Nestle came into Florida and managed to pull off quite the coup.

The company got a permit to take water belonging to Floridians — hundreds of millions of gallons a year from a spring in a state park — at no cost to Nestle.

No taxes. No fees. Just a $230 permit to pump water until 2018.

Nestle bottles that water, ships it throughout the Southeast — much of it to Georgia and the Carolinas — and makes millions upon millions of dollars in profits on it.

The state granted Nestle permission to draw so much water against the strong recommendation of the local water management district staff. Because drought conditions were stressing the Madison Blue Spring, the staff said the amount of water drawn on the permit should be cut by more than two-thirds.

So while Florida is in a bitter dispute with its state neighbors over water use, it’s giving its water away to a private company that bottles and ships it to those very same states.

While we’re at it, let’s discuss the bits from Mother Jones other piece H2Uh-Oh.

Dasani (Coca-Cola)
Coca-Cola’s bottling plant near the village of Plachimada in Kerala, India, began pumping groundwater in 2000. When wells dried up and villagers couldn’t irrigate their fields, Coke offered a goodwill gesture: heavy-metal-laced sludge from the plant to use as fertilizer. After company ignored years of protests—and two government orders to install wastewater treatment and provide drinking water to villagers—the state ordered Coke plant to close in 2004. (Coke won the right to reopen the next year.)

Arrowhead (Nestlé)

Nestlé is seeking a permit to pipe 65 million gallons a year from a spring in rural Colorado. When critics raised concerns about the effect of climate change on local water supplies, Nestlé said it was “illogical” to base decisions on changes “many years in the future.”

Ice Mountain (Nestlé)

Pays nothing (other than small lease and $85 yearly well fee) to pump from a Mecosta County, Michigan, spring. Citizens sued, saying the plant would damage nearby waterways, and prevailed. But Nestlé appealed and this past July won the right to continue pumping up to 200 gal./minute.

Look, I know that many of you look upon bottled water as a necessary convenience. But excessive use of these convenience comes at a cost to others. For me, it’s become more difficult to justify its purchase. Tap water, while clearly different in taste in different parts of the country, is perfectly palatable. If particulates are a concern, then a Brita filter can work wonders.