Want liquid gold? Turn on your tap

WE STOPPED AT a Starbucks for a $4 cup of Mocha-something on the way to our son's first day at college. The emotional inner turmoil brought on by our soontobe empty nest must have turned my brain to mush since I never stopped to consider how absurd it is to pay that much for a wee bit of coffee beaten to a pulp in a blender of ice! A brain-freeze moment followed a few minutes later as I over-indulged

WE STOPPED AT a Starbucks for a $4 cup of Mocha-something on the way to our son's first day at college. The emotional inner turmoil brought on by our soontobe empty nest must have turned my brain to mush since I never stopped to consider how absurd it is to pay that much for a wee bit of coffee beaten to a pulp in a blender of ice! A brain-freeze moment followed a few minutes later as I over-indulged my senses.

After lugging our son's 1,000 lb. of possessions to his fifth-floor dorm room, we needed liquid refreshment to replenish the sweat that had seeped from every pore! Huffing and puffing up five flights of stairs for what seemed like hours (the elevators had long lines of parents who looked like Sherpa guides assisting an assault on Mount Everest) had brought on a powerful thirst. The universal drink request from our assembled Sherpa group? Water!

Not a single drinking fountain was to be found in the dorm's halls, so we found ourselves on the ground floor in front of a soda machine that had 10 rows of selection buttons. Of the 10, six were for water — at $1.50 each! Big 16-oz. clear-plastic bottles of chilled water.

The soda machine's security flap was designed for 12-oz. soda cans, not 16-oz. plastic bottles, so retrieving each bottle after it rattled and clunked its way to the hand-access-chamber, with a final resounding thump, was a challenge more suitable for engineering students.

As much as

The folks at Coke and Pepsi must be laughing all the way to the bank. Here we were in a building on a college campus with a fully functioning potable water system that, in all likelihood, dispenses water as pure, or purer, than what we'd just purchased. Let's see, there are 128 oz. in 1 gal. and that buck-fifty bottle held 16 oz. for a cost of $12 per gal.!

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates all bottled water and its regulations require it be — get this —the same quality as the Environmental Protection Agency requirements for public potable water systems. In essence, a bottled water company could simply fill and ship bottles of municipal-system potable water. According to some experts, as much as 25% of bottled water is directly derived from municipal water systems and labeled as such, unless the bottler filters or treats the water. If the water is treated or filtered, bottlers can pretty much call it whatever they deem appropriate.

My latest water bill shows a charge of $0.004214 per gal., which translates into $0.00052675 of product cost for that 16-oz. bottle. I checked with a world leader in plastic bottle manufacturing and that company estimates the bottle with its label costs 3 cents to produce. Shipping and handling need to be added and, if we assign a 20-cent assessment for that, total costs would be slightly less than 24 cents. So, $1.50 represents a whopping 625% profit! At that rate, the retail pricing for a standard water closet would be $1,406.25, and that's not counting its installation. We're in the wrong business!

At home, I've seen 9-oz. bottles of Evian for just under $1.50 each. That works out to roughly $21 per gal.! But then, I am dyslexic, so Evian to me reads "naÔve," which always gives me a chuckle while traversing the grocerystore aisles. If P.T. Barnum were alive today, he'd be mighty envious of the marketing surrounding bottled water as folks ingress and egress buildings while their dollars egress their wallets!

If we're willing to shell out $12 per gal. of water without so much as a moment's grousing, why is it we're complaining about shelling out $3 per gal. of gasoline? The height of hypocrisy, for me, was overhearing the driver of a 9-mpg Hummer squawking about the price for filling his tank while taking a swig from a $12-a-gal. bottle of water.

Pollution is a real concern with estimates of 1,000 years for plastic water bottles to biodegrade while nine out of 10 bottles end up in non-recycled trash. Estimates indicate there could be as much as 1.5-million tons of nonrecycled plastic bottle trash per year!

Water wars have begun to overflow the bottled water industry as residents of states such as Florida, New Hampshire, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin find they are at odds over water rights for springs or aquifers that are being depletedby major bottling manufacturerswho've literally struck liquid gold. Bottling plants that pump 260 million gal. of water (or more) per year from underground aquifers or springs place surrounding communities in peril of running out of reliable sources for their own drinking water. Once depleted, most underground aquifers cannot be restored.

Our insatiable thirst for over-priced bottled water merely feeds this frenzied pace of natural resource depletion.

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