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Bottled Water Is Sucking Florida Dry (nytimes.com)
105 points by pseudolus 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 73 comments



It must be nice to pay $115/year to get a million gallons of water per day. This is a significantly better deal than we're getting under JEA, our single available utility company here in our area of Jacksonville.

Our water bills include a $30/month connection fee for tap water, a $30/month connection fee for reclaimed water (lawn and yard), $15/month for sewer, and a tiered water system that puts you in the $250+/month (total) range to water a relatively standard size lot plus provide water for a family of 3.

If our HOA didn't prohibit it, I'd drill a well.

This could certainly benefit from a heavier tax, considering their 91.4B in revenue


You're buying it from a utility (water company) they're taking it straight out of the ground. It is an apples and oranges comparison. Most of what you're paying for is purification and the infrastructure cost piping it to your home/business, neither of which is true with groundwater.

Look, I am not defending these people, but to have a real conversation about this topic we have to at least get the facts right.

The law is outdated. It treats water the same as air. If you can get it on your property it is essentially yours. They're buying land, putting in a well-head, getting a cheap permit, and taking it straight out of the groundwater, just like a utility would.

The problem, as I said, is that the law is outdated. But if it was updated we also need to have a real discussion about farm/agriculture usage of water and what they pay/how it is distributed.

By the way in, 2017, 41% of South Florida's Water District's surface & groundwater[0] went to agriculture (1,076 million gallons). Another 41% went to the public utility (1,084 million gallons). Only 4% to industrial/commercial (116 million gallons). But yet we're talking about the 4%, not the 41%. Why is that?

[0] https://www.sfwmd.gov/our-work/water-supply


Did you miss "If our HOA didn't prohibit it, I'd drill a well."? A well wouldn't be treated water from his water company.


You aren't paying for the water, you are paying for the treatment of the water, and the infrastructure to get it to you. Nestle isn't using any of that treatment/infrastructure.

Don't get me wrong, I think bottled water is largely a huge waste (though it does have some uses as well, I don't think the whole industry should disappear). I just don't think this argument (that Nestle gets "free water") is compelling. These deals aren't comparable to tap water pricing, they're probably more comparable to agricultural use, and Nestle's usage is likely a rounding error in comparison (as pointed out by someone elsewhere in this thread).


How anyone spending a few mental cycles can believe the bottled water industry is anything but a rounding error of the agricultural industry is beyond me. But I guess that is the point: Distraction.


You're kidding right? I would expect all drinking water combined to be a rounding error next to agriculture, and bottled water is a subset of that.


In Florida, drinking water [0] uses approximately as much water as agriculture [1]. By far the biggest use of water in Florida is "thermoelectric power" (burning things to generate steam, presumably), which is more than domestic and irrigation combined.

[0] There is no distinction between potable water that is ingested as opposed to used for showering and washing dishes, though.

[1] https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2018/3035/fs20183035.pdf


How many CCFs of water (748 gallons) are you using? In Seattle the average is 4.3 CCFs a month of water use, and most of your bill isn't for potable water, but sewer.

Watering your lawn is likely $100+ of your bill, green lawns are expensive!


It's not per year. It's a one time fee.


That's actually insane to me. Is the price just the relative cost of getting clean drinking water on the east coast of Florida? I just can't imagine ever paying that much for water. What do you do if you're poor?


> to water a relatively standard size lot

There's a big chunk of the problem.

We really need to start pushing back against "traditional" lawns. In a lot of places you're not just socially but legally required to maintain a completely unsuitable breed of grass in a condition that requires enormous amounts of both labor and water. America spends more water growing lawns than it does on wheat and corn. http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/03/grass-lawns-...


I don't know much about Florida, but it shocks me that there's any need to water a lawn there. Watering a lawn must take up a lot of bottles worth of water!

I wonder if they use more water filling the bottles or landscaping around the bottling plant.


Or just force them to use desalination. Of course, the voters will wait for the aquifer to be destroyed, and THEN pass a law saying water bottling companies can't do that.


> The permit allows Nestlé to take one million gallons per day at no cost, with just a one-time $115 application fee.

This has virtually no impact on the aquifer:

> According to the United States Geological Survey, total withdrawals from the Floridan aquifer system in 2000 were ranked 5th highest of all principal aquifers in the Nation at 3,640 million gallons per day (Mgal/d)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floridan_aquifer


Regardless, they are making money on this extraction and the state isn’t getting direct compensation. It doesn’t need to be exorbitant but it should be more than a nominal amount. There should be some volume dependence. It should be whatever the commercial water rate is.

It’s also not only a FL problem. Nestle has similar contracts with other states too.


Why does the state need compensation? It’s an aquifer the state isn’t treating waste water and selling it to Nestle. Commercial water rates include treatment and all the infrastructure to move it around.

That’s similar to saying farms should pay the state for using soil.


It’s a shared natural resource. If it gets exhausted or gets polluted we all are affected.

If they bought the land and proportionately drew water, then, okay. They’d pay taxes on the land asf.


More like mineral rights.


That is the total amount removed from the aquifer. The article states that the amount taken from Northern Florida needs to be reduced by at least 50% in order to return to previous water levels. 1Mg/day represents .027% of the 3640Mg/day from the entire aquifer. I'm sure it represents a substantially larger percentage from the North Florida section.

Edit: It's 1Mg/day not 100Mg/day. Changed above.


100/3640 is ~2.7%, not 5%. GP says Nestle gets 1Mg/day, which would be ~0.027%. Where did you get 100Mg/day?


It was an error. I read his post incorrectly.

It is still a larger portion from just that section of the aquifer near the Sante Fe river. Exactly how much I do not know. Bottling water is a contentious issue and I'm not entirely certain how to feel about it. Sure it can be beneficial for providing water to areas without any safe supply. It just rubs me the wrong way that Nestle doesn't pay any money for it so it isn't exactly a "utility" cost for those people.


While it may only be a small fraction of the total withdrawn, the issue should focus on the overall volume of aquifer. If the amount is decreasing then there ought to be considerations for halting non-essential usage.


It is actually hard to imagine a manufactured product that would require less water per dollar made than bottling water.

Nobody seems to ever worry about the production of beer, wine or soda which requires an order of magnitude more fresh water per unit sold.

In fact, using this website even requires the use of water. According to the department of energy, data centres in the US will use a 174 billion gallons of water next year.

That is about 500 gallons of water per year, for every man woman and child in the US.

https://www.watercalculator.org/water-use/data-centers-water...


writing a script in 10 minutes has virtually no impact in my life but you bet yo ass I'm charging for it


Every time I see this kind of news, this cartoon comes up in my mind: https://www.newyorker.com/cartoon/a16995


> Florida should prioritize providing safe drinking water for its residents, rather than bottling that water to resell elsewhere.

Does bottled water actually get exported/shipped long distances?


> Does bottled water actually get exported/shipped long distances?

Have you ever seen Fiji water?


That is exactly why I thought most bottled water is not exported/shipped long distances: I thought Fiji was an outlier in this industry.


Most bottled water isn't shipped long distances but name brand "designer" water isn't limited to Fiji. Perrier, Voss, Evian, and Sanpellegrino are all major bottled water brands marketed in the US that send their water across an ocean.


Are you joking? Evian. Perrier. Volvic. Massive export water brands shipped all around the world to probably every country on earth.


Those all still seem small compared to the "common" bottled water brands that you can get everywhere, which I thought were bottled relatively locally.


What common brands can you get in more places than Evian?


While Fiji is a good example, it should be noted that their impact isn't as big as people think, mostly because they fill up ships that would otherwise return to the US anyway. The return trips used to be mostly empty, now they carry Fiji Water. (Yes the added weight means more fuel is burned)


> (Yes the added weight means more fuel is burned)

Wouldn't those ships require ballast anyways? It's a stability issue to be completely empty with such large displacement shipping vessels.


Good point


I just was just given a bottle of Nestle water in North Carolina, it was from a Florida.


which Florida.


Considering the largest offender is Nestle, I'd say yes. Bottled water here in Oregon almost always comes from California - which is a bit insane when we have so much water here locally.


Nestle did try to build a bottling plant near hood river a few years ago. They were going to draw water from a tributary that would have affected spawning salmon and steelhead. The county passed a ballot measure that no commercial water bottling could happen in Hood River County.


I guess California does not have enough salmon to care (nobody likes the smelt :/ ), or the farms are taking so much water that bottling is paltry in comparison.


California has a very complicated relationship with water. Because most of our state is a desert, water rights are something people literally killed over until pretty recently. Strong water rights are codified into our laws, and they mostly have to do with land ownership. You own the land you own the water underneath.

It makes it really easy for Nestle to take advantage of laws written for farmers 150 years ago.

We're slowly changing the rules about water so that we don't destroy California farming but still have water left in 50 years.


The San Bernardino mountains Nestle extraction point is a federal property, though. The poor nation state cannot even govern its own water.

https://www.courthousenews.com/watch-the-water-grab-californ...


In central Washington State, there was some recent debate over Crystal Geyser setting up a plant in Randle, WA:

http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8029750&start...

I hadn't kept up with the story since first hearing about it from locals running a petition - Interestingly there's a peer into the negotiation tactics due to an email slip: http://www.chronline.com/news/crystal-geyser-mistakenly-emai...

https://kuow.org/stories/with-a-mistaken-email-crystal-geyse...

Crystal was working on this for a while - they were bringing in fiber optic lines into Randle months beforehand, seemed to be on the mayor's good side. The interesting thing is wondering how it riled up people that I think are right-of-center non-environmental types. I remember hearing lines akin to 'a Japanese company is coming into our town' (Crystal Geyser is "is a wholly owned subsidiary of Japanese pharmaceutical company, Otsuka Holdings" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_Geyser_Water_Company).


This article is missing evidence to support the basic claim in the title. What portion of water usage can be attributed to bottled water?


… and if it’s being shipped off to other places and people are drinking it, then… that’s a good thing, right? As long as it’s not being wasted. I’m a lot more concerned about people (like my kids) who take three sips from a water bottle and then throw the whole thing in the trash. Now fresh water has been completely removed from the ecosystem, at least until the plastic decomposes in ten million years.


Your trash collectors will probably crush the whole thing, so the water will seep out. Polluted, yes, but not locked away for that long. (And even if not, I'd give it a very short time until the water seeps out from micro-fractures anyway.)


Is there some political reason people go after the bottled water companies than the other water users? Does it poll well with focus groups or something similar?


It's a stupid, inefficient, and wasteful use of water.

If almond growers want to use a ton of water to grow almonds, fine. At least we get almonds, almond milk, almond oil, etc from that water usage.

Bottled water gets us nothing because most places it's getting shipped to already have clean, potable water available. It's a waste of water first and foremost. (Obviously this argument is against wealthy first world nations drinking bottled water. It's totally reasonable to ship clean water to the 2nd and 3rd world).

It's doubly offensive when you factor in the fact that most bottled water is transported in single use plastic containers that don't fall apart. There weren't any empty water bottles washed up on lakes in the 90s. They're everywhere now.

It's triply offensive when you consider this water is transported using pollution emitting vehicles.

It's 3x the waste for 1x the benefit.

The final straw is that a company is getting rich doing this but not paying for the externalities they're creating.


Almonds, meat, and golf courses are exorbitant consumers of water which no one needs to survive. You absolutely need water to survive.

One liter of bottled water requires 1 liter of water. One liter of almond milk requires 384. It is absurd that you justify almost 400x water consumption because "at least we get almonds".

I live in Florida. The amount of water I need is independent of bottles. If I drink a gallon of water from a pipe or bottle, I take a gallon of water out of the springs. If I drink a gallon of almond milk, I take 400 gallons from somewhere in California.

Your argument against plastic applies to almost all other things in grocery stores. The argument is specifically applied to water because everyone seems to have a personal grudge against Nestle.

Is bottled water wasteful? Yes. Should we dedicate more energy towards 400x wasteful activities in the same grocery store? Only if you want to be taken seriously.


Where do you think those 384 liters of water to produce a liter of almond milk go? Back into the environment, mostly the ground.

Water is not being consumed or destroyed. There’s the same 384 liters left.


If this were true, aquifers wouldn’t be falling worldwide. Some of the water will make its way back into the aquifer. Most of it will evaporate, eventually raining down into an ocean or onto a watershed that drains into an ocean.


With bottled water companies, I think people hate the plastic waste more than the water use.. so there's two reasons to go after them. Plastic bottles are the only things a bottled water company actually produces.


For wafer from an aquifer, uncertain. For water from the Great Lakes, because bottled water is shipped outside of the Great Lakes watershed, and therefore does not return to the Great Lakes.


Why you're getting downvoted is beyond me. Because yes, same point.

It's a water resource that's being exported at a potential unsafe rate compared to it being replenished. Which can have devastating impact on the environment. We already have sinkhole problems here in Florida.

Hell, look at water exported for LA and Las Vegas. Actually, just look up water exportation in general and see a lot of the problems it develops. It's not just an American thing.


I tend to figure that all posts will have some amount of downvotes, and that if I complain about them, it would just add noise to the conversation.

I think most differences arise from the source of water that is present, and how that affects people's thinking of water usage. With rivers, water is seen as a resource that replenishes at a certain rate. Whether you use it for irrigation or let it flow into the sea, it is lost. Therefore, if water usage is restricted, the end result is a loss of fresh water. Maximal usage implies maximal societal benefit.

The Great Lakes are a rather unique situation, because they are the among the largest freshwater bodies in the world. So long as water being returned to the lakes is properly treated, you can use as much water as is desired without affecting the storage of water. So long as it stays within the Great Lakes watershed, rivers will quickly bring the water back to the lakes. The only way that the water will decrease substantially is if it is exported outside of the watershed entirely. Maximal societal benefit is gained by maximizing water usage within the watershed, and minimizing water usage outside.

It is these two mentalities that are in conflict, more than anything else. From the perspective of those using river water, the Great Lakes looks like hoarding, rather than appropriate management of a finite resource.


The people making the bulk of the money have the greater role in taking responsibility. It's always been like this. And by all comparisons and contrasts, buying water in plastic bottles is a losing proposition. 99% of consumers lose money by buying water this way.


I don't know about the political reason but the logical reason is that piped water users generally end up putting that water back into Northern Florida, either the ground or the air.


I don't think I've ever purchased bulk bottled water. Occasionally I have bought a single bottle if I'm in a pinch but I can't remember the last time. I just carry a double walled vacuum insulated water bottle with me and fill it up with a simple brita filter carafe that I keep in the fridge for ice cold water all day and near zero waste other than a filter once every few months.


It's good to store a pack for cases of emergency. Even things like a broken supply water pipe on a hot sunday can be harsh, let alone local pollution warnings that last half a day or more.

Storing the tap water itself is a lot harder since you need to keep it clean enough nothing grows in there for a while; bottled water is very convenient.


Definitely, I have a few gallon bottles at home and a couple in the car for emergencies.


Does it matter ?

I thought that fresh water aquifers in Florida were predicted to get contaminated with seawater fairly soon.


Isn’t seawater infiltration directly related to depletion of the fresh water in the aquifer?


I thought that it was caused by the expected rise in sea level.


Yes.


[flagged]


This is not politics, it's a "letter to the editor" or an opinion piece (a well cited one at that).


[flagged]


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HN explicitly is not just about tech. https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


The idea, "bro", of a hacker being monomaniacally interested in "tech" is a recently-developed fiction. It's very difficult to describe, for example, the cypherpunk movement as anything other than "hacker" in nature, yet they did not restrict themselves to what a venture capitalist had to say about X or what that hot new processor could do; why should anyone else?

That idea, in addition to being historically and contemporaneously wrong, manages to be dishonest, too; you, too, are pushing an agenda--it's just one comfortable with the status quo.


would you settle for a hn/politics tab so myself and others do not get sucked into this political toilet with you?


https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

>> Please don't complain that a submission is inappropriate. If a story is spam or off-topic, flag it. Don't feed egregious comments by replying; flag them instead. If you flag, please don't also comment that you did.


This is much better advice. I always get sucked into the toilet. I really wish we took political debates off of HN



In US, socialism for corporations is fine. But if you talk about giving free health care to cancer patients, all hell breaks lose.


This is unfortunately the narrative that the news has forged




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