New Bill Proposes a Ban of Water Extraction in Washington

A water bottling facility Jermuk Group / Licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0

Washington could soon become one of the first states to protect its natural water stores by banning water bottle companies from extracting in the state. SB 6278, a bill making its way through the law-making system, proposes a halt to “any use of water for the commercial production of bottled water,” judging it “detrimental to the public welfare and the public interest.” Prohibiting new permits for groundwater withdrawals, the bill bans extraction for the express purpose of bottling. This includes jugs or similar containers, or products marketed as “spring water” or “enhanced water.” Recently, the bill passed the Senate with a 28/20 vote, proceeding to the House. It will be written into law if passed by the House and signed by Governor Jay Inslee.

The bill is far from out of the blue. If not just bottling tap water, bottled water companies have long been extracting water from natural sources. Siphoning millions of gallons of water at once, water extraction has the potential to destroy groundwater levels and dry up rivers. At the same time, the bottled water industry is growing. Sales, already at an impressive $19 billion by 2018, are expected to grow to $24 billion in three years.

Yet the evidence of the harm that bottled water companies can bring has been seen many times in the past several years. In January, Crystal Geyser, a water bottle company, was found guilty of illegally storing arsenic-contaminated wastewater in a man-made pond, poisoning surrounding wildlife and groundwater. The water was later sent to a treatment plant without disclosing its arsenic content, a material that the plant was incapable of treating. In San Bernardino, California, Nestle has been found to pump more water than allowed, yet continues with approval from the US Forest Service. Even discounting the various scandals of bottled water companies, unchecked extraction – which many claim the water bottle industry is guilty of – depletes natural sources and harms the environment.

“Bottled water companies,” the International Water Bottle Association (IWBA) president, Joseph Doss, said in a 2017 statement, “have a long-standing and deep commitment to protect the natural resources wherever they operate.” He claims that “most bottled water companies conduct ongoing, regular monitoring of groundwater, surface water, and the local ecosystem to ensure long-term sustainability.” Similarly, in an emailed statement, the IWBA vice president of communications, Jill Culora, claims that the Washington bill is “based on the false premise that the bottled water industry is harming the environment.”

Still, the new bill has been praised by activists for the steps taken to protect natural resources and preserve the environment. “Pumping water out of the ground, putting it in plastic bottles and exporting it out of the state of Washington is not in the public interest,” Craig Jasmer, a leader of the Lewis County Water Alliance, a group dedicated to fighting the harmful extraction of water, declared.

“This legislation would help protect the state’s water resources, helping keep the limited freshwater supplies in the state, for the public benefit and the public good,” said Mary Grant, campaign director of the Food and Water Watch. “It would ban one of the worst corporate water abuses – the extraction of local water supplies in plastic bottles shipped out of watersheds and around the country.”