U.S. mayors urge cities to stop buying bottled water

Matthew Lane • Jun 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — A group of U.S. mayors is urging cities across the country to drop the bottle and hit the tap when it comes to drinking water.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors approved a resolution this week encouraging all mayors to phase out their cities’ spending on bottled water and to promote tap water. The vote was passed by a majority of the estimated 250 mayors meeting at the USCM in Miami.

The idea began last year when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order banning the city from using city money to purchase bottled water for city departments, functions and events. The move was estimated to save the city approximately $500,000 a year.

More than 60 mayors around the United States have already taken some measures to reduce or eliminate bottled water use. Most recently, the cities of San Jose, Calif., Miami and Orlando, Fla., decided to phase out bottled water.

The initiative is not only being done to save money and promote the use of tap water, but also for environmental reasons, given that about 80 percent of the bottles are not recycled and end up in landfills or tossed out on the street.

The city of Kingsport provides bottled water to the public, city staff and members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen during BMA work sessions twice a month. During regular BMA meetings, the city provides iced tap water in pitchers to the board.

“The board felt it was very important to emphasize the quality of our city water,” said Tim Whaley, spokesman for the city.

Whaley said the city spends approximately $500 a year on bottled water.

Mayor Dennis Phillips, a member of the USCM, said since Kingsport spends very little money on bottled water, he does not think the issue is to the point where the city should outlaw the use of bottled water.

“If the city used bottled water routinely, or by the gallons, or dozens and dozens of bottles, it might be different. But it’s such a small impact on what we do,” Phillips said. “As far as the city itself buying bottled water, our position is this: We have the best water in Northeast Tennessee, and the only time that we really allow the use of bottled water is if it’s a convenience factor for group meetings.”

Kingsport gets its water from the South Fork of the Holston River — the water intakes are located about a half mile up the river from the John B. Dennis Highway’s crossing of the South Fork of the Holston River. On Wednesday, approximately 1 billion gallons of water flowed by the city’s intakes, which usually take in 14.5 million to 16.5 million gallons of water.

Kingsport’s water undergoes numerous treatment and filtration processes (chlorine, fluoride) before being distributed for public use. In 2007, the Kingsport Water Department received the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts’ Best Tasting Water Award for Upper East Tennessee.

Phillips said since the city’s water is so good, some city officials have discussed bottling and selling the water to the public.

“I do think people should drink city water because it’s as pure as any water you’re going to get anywhere,” he said.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is a nonpartisan national organization founded in 1932. Its membership consists of cities in the United States with populations of 30,000 or more. In 2006, it counted 1,139 such cities.

The primary roles of the USCM are to promote the development of effective national urban/suburban policy, strengthen federal-city relationships, ensure that federal policy meets urban needs, provide mayors with leadership and management tools, and create a forum in which mayors can share ideas and information.

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