No More Bottled Water? Bill Would Ban State Funds

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By Katie Lannan

BOSTON — The state’s tab for bottled water has his hit nearly $200,000 since July, and advocates are asking lawmakers to turn on the taps instead for savings.

“It makes no sense to purchase and throw away water bottles,” Janet Rothrock told the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee. “First of all, they are expensive. A one-liter bottle costing $1.50 is 1,850 times as expensive as a liter of tap water. This is a wasteful use of taxpayer money, and secondly it can be unhealthy. Bottled water is tested only by the manufacturer, test results are not made public, and water sold within its state of origin is not required to be tested.”

Rothrock is a resident of Concord, which voted in April 2012 to ban the sale of single-serve bottled water. A member of the group Concord on Tap, she said the town’s culture has changed since that decision, with more water fountains installed and pitchers of water with paper cups a common sight at municipal meetings.

Rothrock and Clint Richmond of the Massachusetts Sierra Club appeared together before the committee Wednesday to ask that its members support a Rep. Chris Walsh bill (H 3451) to prohibit the use of state dollars to buy bottled water “for use in facilities that are served by public water supplies or potable well water, except when required for safety, health or emergency situations.”

The Framingham Democrat’s bill has only a handful of cosponsors — Democrat Representatives Jonathan Hecht (Watertown), Paul Heroux (Attleboro), Denise Provost (Somerville), Jack Lewis (Framingham), and Claire Cronin (Easton) and Republican Representative Steven Hewitt (Seekonk) — and similar efforts have come up short in the past.

In 2014, the State Administration Committee killed that session’s version of the bill, filed by former state representative Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland), by including it in an order for further study. Last session, Sannicandro’s bill won the panel’s endorsement, but died without making it out the House Ways and Means Committee.

Richmond told lawmakers Wednesday the move makes sense because the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority provides “some of the best tap water in the country.”

Bottled water spending and related equipment rental costs totaled $192,215 from the July 1 start of the fiscal year through October 19, according to the state’s Open Checkbook database. In fiscal year 2017 (which ended this past June 30), spending on bottled water topped $1 million.

Lawmakers last year celebrated the installation of a public water bottle-filling station in a State House basement hallway. At the time, state Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) said water bubblers were removed from the building in 1987 over concerns about water quality.

Rothrock told the committee there is a “particular need” for state government to take environmentally friendly actions like limiting the use of disposable, plastic water bottles, saying there is “no effective federal environmental action” from the Trump administration.

The National Park Service in 2011 implemented a policy encouraging parks to stop selling disposable water bottles, but the service in August announced it would reverse the move, which it said “removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks.”

“While we will continue to encourage the use of free water bottle filling stations as appropriate, ultimately it should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during hot summer visitation periods,” Michael Reynolds, the acting National Park Service director, said in an Aug. 15statement.

Only 23 of the 417 National Park Service sites had put the ban into place before it was rescinded.