Plenty of choices

watershelfOur market-driven economy enshrines consumer choice as one of its highest virtues. The other day I was standing in line at the grocery store, looking at the bottled water, and I just had to take a snapshot of what I was seeing. This is only a portion of the water case.

I can buy water from Italy or France or Fiji or Hawaii or Iceland. I can buy water with odd molecular super powers: it’s oxygenated or alkaline or…something? Buying a bottle of water in certain stores in Los Angeles in the year 2016 can be as exquisitely nuanced a process as buying a bottle of wine.

When it comes to buying water, I have tons of choices–as long as I have no problem with generating utterly unnecessary plastic waste, or with flying my drinking water across the world (a gesture that even Marie Antoinette may have found excessive), or with paying exorbitant sums for this folly.

In other words, I am perfectly free to buy into this group psychosis which is our contemporary culture.

What I cannot have is a free sip of water from a functioning water fountain. They are as rare as hen’s teeth in these parts-or perhaps I should say, rare as pay phones.

What I cannot have is tap water in my home which I can drink without filtering it.

What I cannot have is clean water running in my streams and rivers, or even an ocean clean enough to forage from. Sometimes, it’s not even clean enough to swim in it.

But oh yes, I have plenty of choice.


A beautiful fountain at Mt. Wilson Observatory. Like most beautiful old drinking fountains in public places, it is no longer functioning.





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  1. Reading this post in reverse basically explains the problem, I think – ‘We don’t have good tap water or public fountains anymore, so the market in bottled water has exploded to offer people the water that they want.’

    The real question is, why can’t your community provide good tap water (and related fountains)? This isn’t an either/or question; bottled water didn’t drive public utilities to poor performance.

    The other issue you mentioned seems related as well – public fountains and infrastructure are frequently unclean and play host to things like bacteria, chemicals and contaminants (Flint, Michigan springs to mind). Individual plastic bottles are obviously more hygienic and provide assurance on a personal level that your water (which is now under your control) is more pure than that provided elsewhere.

    So – how do we change the status quo in large cities? Should be simple enough, right? While you’re figuring this out, I’ll be drinking some of the water my private well provides. Quite refreshing, I must say.

  2. It is enough to make a person go bonkers. Matt and I have talked about this on several grocery store runs. As a cellphone-free anomaly I am growing increasingly concerned about the lack of payphones! I hadn’t thought about losing my water fountains, too! Heavens!

    • I, too, have been cellphone free and have noticed the disappearance of all the pay phones in stores – I used to know where to find a phone anywhere I went. Now they’re all gone.

      Some of the local grocery stores still have water fountains, but perhaps they are not long for this world either. John and I have designated travel mugs only for ice water from home so we’re not tempted to buy something to drink when we’re out.

      It seems that every time we look around, the commons has shrunk a little more.

  3. “Evian” is “Naive” spelled backwards. There must be something in this.

    Many years ago we lived in a mid-sized community in Ontario that had beautiful tasting, clean tap water. It was pumped directly from a limestone aquifer many hundreds of feet down, very lightly treated, then put into the municipal water supply.

    As the community grew, the aquifer became depleted, so the city began pumping water from the nearest river. This was contaminated with agricultural effluent, urban runoff and other nasty stuff, so it had to be heavily treated with chlorine and other chemicals to avoid killing the populace. It tasted disgusting.

    A few years ago, Nestle got permission to pump water from what was left of the aquifer to sell as bottled “pure spring water”. They paid the municipality a few dollars per million litres for this permission and sold the resulting product to customers at a few dollars per litre. I guess the bisphenol-impregnated bottles were expensive.

  4. Even if you’ve got your own well, you may not have pure potable water.

    I boil my water before I drink it. Folks used to run cattle on my land years ago, and the water has tested positive for eColi in the past. The water is incredibly rusty after a rain, and that is also worrying. I really should get it tested again and I certainly should have the whole thing re-dug since my well is shallow.

    Water is an expensive nuisance sometimes.

    • The lessons of the Walkerton, Ontario E.coli outbreak of 2000 should not be forgotten. The municipal well was in a cow field and was so poorly maintained that the well lining had cracked and contaminated water leaked into the well after every rainfall. The municipal employees responsible for the water supply were a pair of “good old boys” who kept a well-stocked beer fridge in the office. They failed to ensure that the water treatment plant was kept supplied with the needed chemicals and, as it was too much trouble to actually collect and test water samples, they just made up fictitious results to send to the public health authorities.

      Seven people died. Thousands were sickened, some with permanent after effects, and the two responsible employees were jailed.

  5. Because of the California drought and the uncertainty of the sources for the Tri-Valley water sources (inland SF Bay/Sacramento River Delta area)we invested in a filter/softener/RO system this year. The main complaint is that RO “wastes” water in the filtering process. We solved this by having the “waste” water drained out to our fig tree. A secondary problem, that RO is considered too acidic was solved by a filter that modifies the ph back to slightly alkaline. Our in-house water is now less chlorinated, softer, safer to drink and tastes better. And given that I no longer worry about contaminants, well worth what it cost to install (which, if one is handy, could be diy).

  6. I know someone who once stayed at some swanky hotel that boasted of having a “water bar.” Like a wine bar only… water. With a sommelier and everything. The luxury.

  7. Cool bubbler in the last pic. I’d love to have one in my home.

    A story came out on the evening news a year or two ago. Portland fountains and the famous Benson Bubblers were tested for disease. One fountain at the mall was pretty clean, but most were riddled with bacteria. During the live coverage, which was being done in front of one of the Benson Bubblers, a person walked up to the bubbler, right behind the reporter, pulled down his pants, and sat down on the stream of water. My husband cleans up the parks, and said he has seen that in person a couple times, as well. Gag!

    And now the fountains and sinks in public schools are being shut down due to high levels of lead contamination.

    Once or twice a year there is a postive e.Coli test in the water storage facilities. And anytime we get a big rain (multiple times a winter), raw sewage overflows into the Willamette River which flows through downtown. Which is exactly what the system was designed to do. So the water in the river, and even the water we are paying [a pretty penny] for in Portland isn’t safe. It’s a sad state of affairs.

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