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Watering Down Our National Parks

 Bottled Water Out of Yosemite 
When it comes to bottled water, cash-strapped parks have been putting Coca-Cola’s interests ahead of the common good. Now, a growing coalition is demanding change.  


The National Park Service (NPS), like most Americans these days, is broke. Unlike the rest of us, it has corporations like Coca-Cola whispering promises of money in its ear—money that parks desperately need to staff, maintain, and protect the grounds. But there’s one thing the public has learned about corporations: they don’t give without asking for something in return.

For Coke, “donating” a fraction of a percent of its revenue (roughly .0013%) keeps its Dasani bottled water for sale in parks and buys the exclusive right to use park logos in advertisements. As marketing schemes go, it’s brilliant. Coke greens its image, turns a profit in the park, and writes it all off at tax time. Since August of 2011, the National Park Service has been working on a billion dollar corporate-financed endowment, and Coke has been in on the plans since the initial fundraising summit.

But the deal might not stay this sweet for long. Watchdog group Corporate Accountability International is leading a coalition pushing national parks like Yosemite, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Mt. Rainier, and the Liberty Bell’s Independence Hall National Historic Park to nix bottled water. Instead, park-goers will use their own bottles to refill at taps. 

“Coke and the bottled water industry are using one national treasure to profit from another at the public’s expense,” says Kristin Urquiza, director of Corporate Accountability International’s Think Outside the Bottle campaign. She continues, “Water, like our parks, is not for sale.”


Whether or not that sounds like a battle cry, it might be. Back in 2011, Coke attempted to block a ban on bottled water in Grand Canyon National Park. The park hesitated but followed through with the ban, reducing its waste stream by 20 percent—500 tons a year. It also cut the cost of recycling removal by 30 percent, estimates the NPS Branch Chief of Sustainable Operations and Climate Change.

This week, groups representing more than 150 organizations and 40,000 park-goers are delivering petitions to park superintendents across the country, asking that they stop selling water in plastic bottles. In San Francisco, the president of the city’s Board of Supervisors, David Chin—along with the executive director of the Sierra Club’s Bay chapter and celebrity rock climbers Alex Honnold and Hans Florine—will deliver that request in the form of a three-by-five-foot postcard.

“The public, not Coke executives, should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to park policy,” said Florine, who holds the world record for speed climbing El Capitan in Yosemite along with Alex Honnold. “We know park employees across the country are eager to do the right thing here. Today, we’re giving them the support they need to act in the public’s interest.”

Says Honnold, “Bottling and transporting water is a colossal waste of resources that the parks should in no way help promote. If anything, the sales of bottled water fosters a kind of disposable view of the world around us that is anathema to the park's mission to ‘preserve unimpaired’ our wild places.”

At least 14 of the nation’s 398 parks have already gotten rid of water sold in plastic bottles. Find out more about Think Outside the Bottle: "10 Reasons Why National Parks Should Buck the Bottle."

carter lavin
3/29/2013 4:26:11 AM

The amount of energy and waste generated in producing a single bottle of water and transporting it to our national parks is absurd. As the ecological idiocy of bottled water is well known and as most hikers and visitors bring their own re-usable bottle, I'm shocked that the parks still sell these things. I'm glad to see that most park employees are eager to ban the bottle, and I stand with them against Coke! After all, if Coke really loved our parks so much, they wouldn't care if they couldn't treat it as their own store-front. Also- Eric Johansson, tap water quality is regulated, bottled water isn't in the US. I'm not sure where you've been traveling to-but a great part about living in the developed world is high quality tap water.

eric johansson
3/27/2013 2:30:18 PM

in most places I've lived, tap water was so revolting that the only way to drink it was either filtering or flavoring. Bottled water is a reasonable way to deal with unknown or questionable quality public water supplies. bottled water is also drinkable after a long time in storage in contrast to refillable containers which often contain bacteria from mouth backwash. Many things from your mouth such as bacteria and food debris can render drinkable water unhealthy after a few hours in the sun.