Thursday, December 25, 2008

Metro may curb its bottled water

Mayor, councilman ask departments to cut back By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • December 25, 2008 Those ubiquitous plastic water bottles soon will be seen a little less around the Metro Courthouse. Mayor Karl Dean has decided that the mayor's office will stop buying bottled water after Metro Councilman Mike Jameson led the charge for legislation asking all city departments to take that step. "Councilman Jameson made a good point," Dean said in a statement. "We've decided to stop purchasing bottled water and only serve tap water in the office. And Metro water is great, so it was a no-brainer." Whether Dean's example will inspire other Metro departments to follow suit remains to be seen. The resolution sponsored by Jameson and council members Emily Evans and Jason Holleman wouldn't force anybody to do anything; it would simply ask all departments "to stop purchasing, consuming and serving bottled water." The council postponed a vote on the measure Tuesday after an attorney representing bottled-water interests called some council members, Jameson said. The attorney, John Gupton, couldn't be reached for comment. Councilman Rip Ryman, who asked for the deferral, said he didn't hear from Gupton, but he wasn't sure why the measure was necessary. "I haven't seen anything yet about what it costs," Ryman said. Jameson said the resolution was driven by both financial and environmental concerns. Most 20-ounce bottles cost at least $1, more than the equivalent volume of gas. But just 88 cents buys 328 gallons of tap water from Metro Water Services. Sonia Harvat, a Water Services spokeswoman, said city water is tested more than 300 times a day and meets all state and federal requirements. Costs of bottled water varies Jameson estimated that Metro spends $30,000 to $40,000 a year on bottled water. He said the sink in the council's break room is just three feet from the refrigerator that the Metro Clerk's office spends about $600 a year to keep stocked with bottled water for council members. "It's an extravagance," he said. Janel Lacy, a spokeswoman for Dean, said she wasn't able to provide a breakdown of the mayor's office's bottled water costs because purchases for water and other beverages are combined on invoices. Other departments' costs vary. The health department spends about $700 a year, a spokesman said, while the school district has spent nearly $3,600 over the past 12 months. But Metro Public Works sends its work crews out with large orange coolers filled with tap water, spokeswoman Gwen Hopkins-Glascock said. Public Works averages about $200 a year for bottled water to use for special events like employee cookouts, receptions for board and commission members, etc. Jameson said bottled water hurts the environment in several ways. Trucks burn fossil fuels as they bring it to the city from other states. The petroleum-based bottles take an estimated 1,000 years to biodegrade. And the vast majority of them wind up in landfills rather than recycling centers. The U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution in July encouraging cities to phase out their use of bottled water. The resolution said up to 40 percent of it comes from municipal water systems

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