Nestlé, for whom I have no brief regarding any of their businesses, is being attacked for bottling water in California during our historic drought; right perp, wrong charge.  I guess water conservation needs symbolic, inconsequential rituals, but I worry that doing silly things in the name of a good cause can be ill-advised. Restaurants are making a big show of not serving water unless requested; this isn’t completely off-base, considering the additional water used to wash the glass, but it’s totally de minimis.
Every drop of water that Nestlé doesn’t bottle in our thirsty state will be drunk.  It will either come from a faucet (the best place to get drinking water) or it will be bottled far away and hauled here in a truck burning diesel–or a ship burning bunker oil from Italy or Fiji, for Pete’s sake–and causing global warming.  The bottle will litter the landscape or the ocean, fill up a landfill, or be turned into a cheap suit, more bottles, or fuel.  The last three aren’t terrible, but they have their own carbon footprints.  Bottled water is a disgrace where tap water is safe and tastes OK, but not because of the water (especially when it’s just tap water, which it usually is).
Our local water agency just gave us a target of 35 gal/day per person for non-landscape water use (Debbie calculates that we are at 31, woo hoo!).  How much of that do you drink?  If you drink a quart a day, less than a percent, and if you are watering any garden, drinking water is, if I may say, literally a drop in the bucket.
If you don’t flush pee once a day, you’ve saved six times what you drink. Turn off the shower for a minute while you soap up  and it’s that much again.  Pass up three almonds and you’ve saved two whole flushes.  Skip a meat portion a week (not to mention a round of golf): now you’re really making a difference.
I’ve successfully driven bottled water out of events at my school in favor of a nice pitcher, and my students are much more likely to schlep a metal bottle that they refill from the tap than a bottle they bought full. That’s green.  But worrying about how much we’re drinking, local or otherwise, is a distraction.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

3 thoughts on “Water”

  1. Nestlé sell 8,000 brands. Is it possible that neither you nor Debbie nor the dog are addicted to at least one of them? Vévey has us all covered.

  2. [My usual rant about LA planning insanity. In which, they tell us all to lose our lawns, but let's build higher and higher!!!]

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