National Parks Being Lobbied To Do Away With Bottled Water, Install Filling Stations

A lobbying effort is under way to get more national parks to phase-out bottled water in favor of reusable water bottles and water-filling stations, such as this one at Arches National Park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

It's been more than a year since bottled water and corporate America collided at Grand Canyon National Park, and the push continues to get more national parks to phase out packaged water in favor of fresh tap water and refillable bottles.

Next week National Park Service officials at Yosemite and Mount Rainier national parks, Independence Hall National Historical Park, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area will be presented with over-sized postcards urging them to phase out disposable water bottles.

At Corporate Accountability International, a non-profit that works to encourage cleaner environmental habits, officials intend to make March 27 a "national day of action ... in a heated battle between those who are fighting to get billions of plastic bottles out of our waste stream, and Coca-Cola (owner of Dasani), who is throwing hurdles in the way of those parks that want to become bottled water free."

Coca-Cola rose to the limelight back in November 2011 when an email trail seemed to indicate the beverage maker was pressuring the National Park Foundation to urge the Park Service not to ban disposable water bottles at Grand Canyon National Park. At the time, Park Service officials said they weren't bowing to corporate pressure but simply conducting due diligence on the impacts of such a ban. For instance, they said at the time, how might the safety of visitors to Southwestern parks such as the Grand Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands be impacted by a ban?

Ultimately, Grand Canyon officials, who had installed water filling stations early in 2011, were able to phase-out bottled water and put to use filling stations they had installed

Kristin Urquiza, who oversees the "Outside the Bottle and Public Works Compaign" for Corporate Accountability International, says more parks need to follow Zion, Hawaii Volcanoes, and Grand Canyon national parks in phasing out the sale of disposable water bottles.

At the same time, she was critical of an extensive memorandum (attached below) Park Service Director Jon Jarvis sent out to his superintendents in the wake of the Grand Canyon uproar that directed the steps they would need to take to phase-out bottled water. That memo called for superintendents to, among other things, review the amount of waste that could be eliminated from their park; consider the costs of installing and maintaining water filling stations for visitors; review the resulting impact on concessionaire and cooperative association revenues, and; consult with the Park Service's Public Health Office.

Then, too, they must consider "contractual implications" to concessionaires, the cost and availability of BPA-free reusable containers, and signage so visitors can find water filling stations. Also, they need to take into consideration safety considerations for visitors who might resort to drinking water "from surface water sources with potential exposure to disease" or who neglect to carry enough water with them on hikes.

"That is a clear indication of how Coke, stepping in, really is putting pressure on the Park Service to make it much more difficult for additional parks to follow suit," maintained Ms. Urquiza during a phone conservation. "Coke and the other bottlers, Nestle and Pepsi, there were several conference calls that were organized with Park Service employees and representatives from the big bottlers, asking them to put a hiatus on additional bans, and really working to stop this from happening in additional places."

To get more parks to phase-out bottled water, the non-profit has been working with stakeholders in and out of national parks, including concessionaires, "to help give Park Service (superintendents) the support they need to really move forward on implementing a 'bottled-water-free' policy in their parks," she said.

While none of the four parks has given "firm commitments" to moving forward with a ban, said Ms. Urquiza, talks have been ongoing to examine the feasibility of such a ban.

"The real exciting feedback that we've been getting is that water in the parks is an incredibly important issue for superintendents," she said. "They want to figure out how to minimize the amount of waste, to promote public water."

The organization plans to organize efforts this fall in Washington, D.C., to lobby the Park Service to hold firm to its original plan of having refillable water stations in 75 percent of park visitor centers by 2016, while encouraging parks to discontinue the sale of disposable bottled water.

On March 27, next Wednesday, the non-profit hopes superintendents at Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Independence Hall, and Golden Gate will commit to moving forward with a ban of disposable water bottles. "Our hope is that the superintendents can make a public commitment to implementing bottled-water-free policies," Ms. Urquiza said. "We're really hopeful, and see this as a win-win for parks.

"... At the end of the day, it's really sending the wrong message for our national parks to be promoting bottled water," she added.

At least one reusable bottlemaker, Vapur, has been talking with national parks about installing water-filling stations for visitors. Company officials, however, have declined to discuss what progress they're making.

NPS-Plastic Water Bottle Memo.pdf410.6 KB


Could I ask how banning sales cut energy used at the visitor center?

And from Saguaro NP's analysis of the ban:

The park could eliminate up to 40% of what is currently recycled; about 15% of the park's total waste stream.

EC, energy savings at Zion came from unplugging coolers.

justinh -

Thanks for some details. More examples of how every little bit helps.

Let's suppose this story had started out by saying, "A private sector think tank, The Free Enterprise Center for Fiscal Responsibility, has identified a simple way national parks could cut their spending on litter pickup, trash collection and disposal. The program could also encourage park visitors to try an easy method for cutting their own household spending year-round... but federal park officials have refused to consider the proposal."

Under those circumstances, any bets on whether one of our regular participants would be complaining about "irresponsible and lazy park bureaucrats who don't care about cutting spending"?

Sorry Kurt, I don't buy the economic argument.

First, water doesn't spoil. The coolers can be unplugged without eliminating the sale of water. Second at the average US tipping fee of $45 a ton, those 5,000 lbs of bottles would have cost $112.50 to dispose of plus perhaps a similar number for transportation to the dump. Taking them to a recycle center would likely have an even lower fee. The consessionaire lost $25,000 (which seems low giving 5000lbs would be almost 300,000 bottles). Does it really make sense to end a money making operation (selling water) and institutue a money losing one - building watering station and giving away water- when the parks are so desperate for funds?

Finally, commercial self contained parks, from Disney to the local water park, sell bottled water. If the revenues didn't cover their cost of collection and dispoal, they wouldn't be doing so.

No Kurt, the clammer here isn't about the economics, it is anti-corporate, anti-oil, environmental extremism.

The concessionaire association that used to sell disposable water bottles at Hawaii Volcano National Park sold reusable bottles instead, and raked in $80,000 and a net profit.

Let's suppose this story had started out by saying,

But the story doesn't start that way because it isn't (or shouldn't be) true. There is nothing in the story or subsequent comments that selling water leads to a net loss for the parks. If the cost to dispose is $500 and you sell 300,000 bottles, that is a cost of less than a penny a bottle. Is the profit on that sale less than 1 cent? I seriously doubt it.

"irresponsible and lazy park bureaucrats who don't care about cutting spending"

And who said that?

That's very nice justin, I certainly don't want to ban reusable bottles. Its all about choice.

BTW, what did they make selling plastic bottles? Can you share with us the source for your information? How many did they sell and what do they sell for?

Oh, and if they aren't selling plastic bottles there, why is Rick still dodging them?

EC, obviously, the economics are just part of the overall equation. In the end it's a choice towards a less-impacting, less-costly (for everyone) approach to keeping trash down in the parks and conserving resources. As for your tipping fees, if the ban reduces the amount of discarded water bottles in parks, those fees go down, too. It's not anti-corporate America, either, as there are companies out there marketing and selling resuable water bottles in the parks. Perhaps the Traveler should brand one and sell it to our readers!

EC - Since you're so fond of challenging others to produce sources and facts, how about you citing the actual revenue the NPS received from those sales of water by concessioners?

Only a fraction of those private profits flow back to the NPS budget, but the NPS has considerable costs in dealing with trash beyond tipping fees at the landfill. For example, either a NPS employee (or a contactor paid by the park) has to empty all those trash cans, replace the plastic liners, toss them in a vehicle which has its own operating costs and haul them away for disposal. If plastic water bottles constitute as much as a third of the volume of the trash stream in a park such as the Grand Canyon, that's a big impact on added manhours and miles for trash cans that can be spread over a large area.

As usual, you're happy to argue about details while failing to consider the aggregate importance of many small savings to park budgets.

As for your tipping fees, if the ban reduces the amount of discarded water bottles in parks, those fees go down, too.

Yes, Kurt, but as I pointed out, the reduction in tipping fees is dwarfed by the reduction in revenues. Economics is indeed only part of the equation - the part that is ignored. Anti-corporation, anti-oil, environmental extremism is the dominant driver here.

BTW - A traveler branded reusable is a good idea.

HVNP is sourced in the link I posted upthread.

actual revenue the NPS received from those sales of water by concessioners?

Since I have never made a claim that I knew that number or based any argument on that number, I don't see its relevance and your asking only is an attempt to deflect my questioning actual numbers provided by others.

either a NPS employee (or a contactor paid by the park) has to empty all those trash cans, replace the plastic liners, toss them in a vehicle which has its own operating costs and haul them away for disposal.

As is the case in commercial parks. Do you think they are selling bottled water at a net loss?

EC, I don't see how it could be anti-corporate America. The best corporations figure out a way to leverage markets. If one angle closes, another one opens up, as is the case here with the reusable bottle companies working to fill the niche.

And as someone else pointed out, if the Park Service spends less money cleaning up litter and hauling it away, it can put those $$$ to better use somewhere else in the parks. That makes better business-sense for the parks, no?

Ah Justin, an unsourced Sierra Club article.

You can read the same story at The Traveler, and elsewhere if you have access to Google:

Shows you Kurt is much more honest in his reporting than the Sierra Club. Kurt identified the source and disclosed those numbers were an "estimate". The Sierra Club article stated it as fact.

But neither were able to identify what the "net profit" was relative to the profit generated from the plastic bottles nor account for the cost of building, maintaining and supplying water stations.

if the Park Service spends less money cleaning up litter and hauling it away, it can put those $$$ to better use somewhere else in the parks.


If plastic bottles generate $500 of incremental cost but $25,000 of incremental profit, then no, its not putting $$$ to better use. Its losing money that could be used somewhere else in the park. Its the equivalent of cutting a tour that cost $100 to run but generates $500 in revenue. It makes no economic sense - not to mention, it doesn't meet the visitors' needs.

But it's not the NPS that's making the $$$ from water sales, it's private corporations that take the money and return a tiny percentage back to the parks.

Maybe that would be a good basis for a story. What does the concessionaire pay for his lease and what percentage of sales does he give to the park? I would love to see a line by line operating account of one of these major parks. Transparency anyone?

Why not rather than banning, if collection and disposal is really the issue, require the concessionaire to pay a fee per bottle sold to cover that cost. At less than 1 cent per bottle, it seems that it would be little burden to the concessionaire or his customer. Or, as has been suggested before, put a deposit on the bottles with the unclaimed funds going to collection and disposal.

If the economics were truly the issue, there are many other alternatives to banning that wouldn't cost the parks nor inconvenience its visitors.

Alas - economics isn't really the issue.

ecbuck, if you read the attatchment at the bottom of the article, the section of Elimination actually does take in to consideration economics. But it is only part of the whole issue, not the only part. For you, it seems to be the only part.


It would be interesting to see those written submissions where plastic bottles have been banned. I don't see how the economics could come down in favor of banning vs some other alternative, perhaps even including doing nothing.

And yes, economics is the "only part" in my consideration as I see no other justifiable reason to ban them. And at least I am honest enough to say so. Many others here have their own personal agendas but aren't willing to admit it and are trying to hide behind unsupportable economic arguments.

My first experience with the water bottle filling stations was at Zion and I thought it was awesome. I'd love to see it in all NPs. There is no need to sell bottled water at NPs when this much better option is made available. There is absolutely no reason it is needed. Just like when we were kids and drank out of the yard hose - we didn't need bottled water then and we don't need it now. If it means that much to some people, they are absolutely allowed to bring it on the park. No one's rights are getting stomped on here. I also think it would be great if nps made it mandatory to only sell products within the parks that are made in USA. But I assume there would be a similar uproar about that idea too; interpreted by some to be the nps trying to tell them how to live, rather than it being viewed as conservative or patriotic which is how I view it.

There is absolutely no reason it is needed.

Here we go with the "need" argument again. There are a lot of things we don't "need". Heck we don't "need" national parks. They are something we want, something we enjoy but certainly not "needed". Does that mean we should shut them down? And who is to be the arbiter of what is "needed"? You? Some Washington bureaucrat? Obviously some individuals think they do need (want) bottled water as they shell out premiums dollars for it when free tap water is within arms reach. What right do you have to deny them that opportunity?

Isn't saying something like: "No Kurt, the clammer here isn't about the economics, it is anti-corporate, anti-oil, environmental extremism." Just another way of reciting the mantra we hear so often around here: "Mulitply, muliply and pillage the Earth."

And Mtnliving is exactly correct when he asks: "EC - Since you're so fond of challenging others to produce sources and facts, how about you citing the actual revenue the NPS received from those sales of water by concessioners?" Let's see the numbers.

Ah but then I see that you've posted that you cannot provide them. Hmmmmmmm.

Y'know, just about as much energy has been wasted trying to get EC nailed down to some facts instead of rapidly shifting arguments based entirely on his opinions only as it takes to produce a whole slug of plastic bottles. Wanna bet that if everyone just ignored him, the fun he obtains from reactions to his rants would be lost and he'd just go away?

Ah but then I see that you've posted that you cannot provide them. Hmmmmmmm.

And never claimed I could. Nor have I based any statement on that number. The only time I have asked for people to produce sources or facts is when they have made specific claims. Like yours, that bottled water was a "scam". You never did explain that one.

Here's the only explanation needed: Bottled water is a scam based on a manufactured need created by advertising. Now let's see you explain exactly why it's not.

After you fail to do that, I'll follow my own advice and ignore whatever you pop up with.

What right do you have to deny them that opportunity?

Noone is denying anyone the opportunity to buy bottled water. If you want to argue that the parks are denying one the opportunty to buy it at the parks, well, the parks would then be denying one the opportunity to buy a lot of things one might want.

You need to look up the definition of scam. " A fraudelent business scheme, swindle*.

Where's the fraud? Where's the swindle?

An overwhelming portion of our economy is based on "manufactured need created by advertising". Is our entire economy a scam? Are cars a "scam"? Are smartphones a "scam"? People know exactly what they are buying when they buy bottled water and they do it willingly.

*American Heritage Dictionary

Justin, the difference is you have a vendor (the concessionaire) willing- even desiring - to sell the bottle water because the economics work. Sure, the visitor can't buy a car, but that is an economic decision of the vendor, not an arbitrary ban by a third party.

In the case of bottled water, you have a willing seller and a willing buyer and a ban would indeed interfer with that opportunity.

you have a vendor (the concessionaire) willing- even desiring - to sell the bottle water because the economics work. Sure, the visitor can't buy a car, but that is an economic decision of the vendor, not an arbitrary ban by a third party.

If the vendor sold a lot of other things, I'm sure the economics would also work for the vendor. I imagine you have plenty of vendors willing--even desiring--to open car dealerships, McDonald's franchises, etc. in the parks. But a ban interferes with those. If you want to argue that the parks are denying me these opportunities, go for it.

Doubt seriously that anyone would want to open a car dealership. As to McDonald's franchises - don't we basically already have that - they are just called something different.

EC – Since the question of whether bottled water is a "scam" has come up, the answer is sometimes clearly "yes" – at other times, it's another example of the gullibility of American consumers. Keeping the scam out of the bottled water business is also a good example of the value of the government regulations you despise so heartily.

Before the FDA began regulating bottled water, it wasn't uncommon for bottled water sellers to misrepresent their product; they simply bottled water right from the municipal tap and sold it under a whole variety of terms, suggesting it was something along the lines of "pure spring water." I'd say that qualifies as a scam.

In 2004, Coca-cola was forced to admit that the UK version of Dasani brand bottled water came from the London city water supply. Unless clearly labeled as such, I'd say that's a scam, too.

Under current regulations, If a bottler calls water “glacial” it has to come from a glacier. “Artesian” water has to flow above the water table ....I'd say that's a good example of progress thanks to government regulation.

One source notes, " Other terms, however, have no clear definitions and can be misleading to the consumer. For example, terms like pure, purest, pristine, premium, mountain water, and clean are advertising descriptors with no official meaning. These terms do not accurately describe the source or purity of the water, nor do they certify that the water is safe. Images on bottled water can also contribute to confusion and misunderstanding about contents. Aquafina (a Pepsi product), like many other bottled waters, puts images of mountains and snow on the label, despite the fact that Aquafina is bottled using processed municipal water."

Is that a scam? Probably not by your standards.

Now, thanks to government regulations, if their water comes from the city tap, bottlers have to at least show that on the label – albeit in a pretty small font at times. Even today, about 25% of the bottled water sold in the U.S. comes from municipal sources, although sellers have done an outstanding job in convincing consumers their product is "safer." Is that really true? If it's not true, is that a scam?

Ironically, FDA regulations for the health and safety of bottled water aren't nearly as stringent as EPA standards for municipal drinking water. Due to budget limitations, the FDA rarely inspects or tests bottled water, and relies on voluntary self-testing by the bottlers.

When contamination of bottled water occurs—as it has—the FDA relies almost exclusively on voluntary action by bottlers to initiate recalls. "FDA rules include no provision obligating a bottler to notify FDA or a state of test results, contamination problems, or violations, even in the case of contamination that could pose a serious health threat.”

So, is promoting bottled water as safer and healthier than tap water a scam? In the U.S., probably so.

There's plenty of similar information readily available. For just two examples, see this link and this one.

Jim, I have no problem with government regulations preventing any vendor from making a false claim about their product. But the fact that one vendor may at one time made a false claim doesn't make the entire industry a scam.

Nor do I view your Dasani UK example as a scam if the facts are as you describe. If it was London tap water and they claimed it wasn't or if they claimed it came from some other source, then that is fraud. If they made no claim as to its source, where is the fraud?

[edit] BTW - This is what is says on the water I give my clients when I am driving them around to look at real estate (you think they want a resuable bottle?)

"Purified drinking water. Quality guarantee. Processed by advanced filtration, osone and reverse osmosis technologies"

Is that a "scam". Only if it isn't true, which I highly doubt.

I've decided I agree with a suggestion made earlier in this thread. Rather than try to reason with ec, the best solution is simply to avoid being baited into an endless debate.

Civil discussion based on differing points of view is a positive aspect of the Traveler, and a factual error posted by anyone - me included - deserves a response if someone else has the correct information. That's useful for the entire readership.

However, some folks just enjoy a verbal ping pong match, so when it comes to ec, I plan to put down the paddles. For my part, don't assume that following one of ec's posts, "Silence gives consent." In some cases, George Bernard Shaw had the right idea when he said, "Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn."

ecbuck, I am sure your clients will be best served by you with the complimentary water bottle and not a reuseable bottle.Who could argue that. But I feel the example set by NPS for being enviromentally concious should be important. Whether it is reduce, recycle or eliminate. Even when I go to the qwik shop, they urge you to bring back your cup for a refill by giving you a reduced price next time. Now while I may not be the best at bringing back my cup. I understand it is an economic consideration on their part, but I also know it is an enviromental consideration on my part.

But I feel the example set by NPS for being enviromentally concious should be important.

Sorry, I just don't see the environmental threat.

ec, It is obvious you do not see it...even more reason for the NPS to set the example.

Nor do I believe that NPS "setting the example" would have a material impact on the amount of plastic bottles produced. It may make you (plural) feel good, but like gun control, Obamacare and many other liberal causes it will have no real effect - unless it is a negative one.

It is obvious you do not see it.

Then why don't you show it to me?


You might look at it as a kind of performance art, in which provocation subverts coherence and reason. It's more fun to view it that way.

Camelbak should start sponsoring some parks after the ban takes place. Welcome to Yosemite, sponsored by Camelbak, has quite the ring to it. :)

I just remembered a time long, long ago when I was a college geology student helping to survey the Blackfoot Glacier in Glacier National Park. We had been drinking from a small mountain stream of pure, glistening, crystal clear glacial water for about a week and a half. Just the kind of place the bottled water ads frequently show us as they extol the inspiring and unequaled purity of their product. Just like the mountain peaks and clear springs on the labels.

It was wonderful water. Tasted just great. So pure . . . . .

Until one day one of our crew wandered about fifty yards upstream and discovered a very dead mountain goat in the middle of the stream.

While I agree with Mtnliving and others about ignoring ecbuck (notice I have not responded to his rude and inane ramblings), I've also been lurking on this site long enough to wonder why the site moderators have not banned him/her. You shouldn't ban somebody simply for being difficult or challenging, but ecbuck's tone is so frequently derisive, unfair, offensive, and accusatory that it has gone beyond acceptable use.

C'mon NPT guys - please consider this. Thanks.

Ignoring someone is one thing, banning them is something else. I see you're a new reader Scott. Go back and read some of PJ's articles, Lee or RickB's comments or some of the other commentors. Mr. Buck is no more derisive, unfair, offensive or accusatory than anyone else. I think he does make a lot of folks uncomfortable because he refuses to allow them to argue their emotional case without the use of supporting facts. I think he makes this site something other than a mutual admiration society for the NPS and some of it's more emotional followers.

I don't want this site to become an echo chamber. Debate of opposing viewpoints is always a good thing.

Another way to appreciate Ecbuck and level of discussion maintained by the staff of the blog is to read comments posted on public news stories about cuts in the NPS. It makes it clear that the voices of dissent on this site are perfectly reasonable. I had posted some examples but was it was pointed out to me that they brought the discussion way too far off topic. I left the following quote so the next post still makes sense:
"When will the media tell the truth. There are no cuts. It is only a reduced increase in funding."

The previous comment is a bit off the topic of water bottles, but it does deserve a response.

Although some in the media are fond of saying, "There are no cuts, it is only a reduced increase in funding," that is simply not true in terms of the amount available for most if not all individual park operations.

There was an accurate summary of the budget topic in another thread earlier this month :

"Submitted by Lost Heritage on March 12, 2013 - 7:46pm. If you look at the total base operating budget of the individual parks, it went down by $23.677 million between FY 2011 and FY 2012. (NPS 2013 Greenbook page ONPS-121) Also, all the new historic parks that congress and the president throw at NPS without increasing the budget also eat into the invidual parks' operating budgets. For example in FY 2012, the new baby park Fort Monroe took $350,000 away from the rest of the parks."

And... those decreases don't reflect cuts from the sequester or the additional cuts in the recently approved funding for the rest of FY13 .

For a good "big picture" view of how many parks are faring, see another recent Traveler article about the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here's an excerpt:

The Parkway Superintendent "explained the Parkway’s budget situation with a look at recent cuts and those over the years. “The fact is, half of our field maintenance staff is gone. Twenty-five percent of our law enforcement ranger jobs are now vacant. The main reason for that is we have a hiring freeze and can't fill those jobs.”

“If you look at maintenance, the sequester is just one issue," he says. "The bigger issue is what’s happened over time. We’ve lost more than 25% of our total staff over the last ten years or so—and the sequester comes on top of that. ...the story isn’t just the current cut but what’s been happening for years.”

“Despite the cuts,” Francis says, “we will still have as many visitors, we will still have as many assets to maintain—just a far smaller staff.”

Yes, some seemingly less critical activities are being tossed around as examples of the "trivial impacts" of the sequester, but the overall budget picture for parks is serious.

Sorry I realize now my last post was sloppy writing and poor board etiquette on my part. I was quoting random online commenters from various news articles to make a point. Those were not my own opinions.

No problem ...the discussion does tend to wander at times on the best of topics :-)

And, it's useful to remind readers there are a variety of perceptions about the budget situation.