Reuters

Dasani, Aquafina, and Crystal Geyser all dip into the Golden State's limited supply.

Bottled-water drinkers, we have a problem: There's a good chance that your water comes from California, a state experiencing the third-driest year on record.

The details of where and how bottling companies get their water are often quite murky, but generally speaking, bottled water falls into two categories. The first is "spring water," or groundwater that's collected, according to the EPA, "at the point where water flows naturally to the earth's surface or from a borehole that taps into the underground source." About 55 percent of bottled water in the United States is spring water, including Crystal Geyser and Arrowhead.


Here’s Where Dasani, Aquafina, Arrowhead, and Crystal Geyser Get Their Water

(U.S. Drought Monitor, Aquafina/Pepsi,
Dasani/Coca-Cola, Crystal Geyser)

The other 45 percent comes from the municipal water supply, meaning that companies, including Aquafina and Dasani, simply treat tap water—the same stuff that comes out of your faucet at home—and bottle it up. (Weird, right?)

But regardless of whether companies bottle from springs or the tap, lots of them are using water in exactly the areas that need it most right now.


The Brands That Use Water Straight From Drought-Ridden California

(U.S. Drought Monitor, Aquafina/Pepsi,
Dasani/Coca-Cola, Arrowhead/Nestle, Crystal Geyser;  
logos courtesy Brands of the World; icons courtesy MapBox)

The map above shows the sources of water for four big-name companies that bottle in California. Aquafina and Dasani "sources" are the facilities where tap water is treated and bottled, whereas Crystal Geyser and Arrowhead "sources" refer to the springs themselves.

In the grand scheme of things, the amount of water used for bottling in California is only a tiny fraction of the amount of water used for food and beverage production—plenty of other bottled drinks use California's water, and a whopping 80 percent of the state's water supply goes toward agriculture. But still, the question remains: Why are Americans across the country drinking bottled water from drought-ridden California?

One reason is simply that California happens to be where some bottled water brands have set up shop. "You have to remember this is a 120-year-old brand," said Jane Lazgin, a representative for Arrowhead. "Some of these sources have long, long been associated with the brand." Lazgin acknowledges that, from an environmental perspective, "tap water is always the winner," but says that the company tries to manage its springs sustainably. The water inside the bottle isn't the only water that bottling companies require: Coca-Cola bottling plants, which produce Dasani, use 1.63 liters of water for every liter of beverage produced in California, according to Coca-Cola representative Dora Wong. "Our California facilities continue to seek ways to reduce overall water use," she wrote in an email.

Another reason we're drinking California's water: California happens to be the only Western state without groundwater regulation or management of major groundwater use. In other words, if you're a water company and you drill down and find water in California, it's all yours.

Then there's the aforementioned murkiness of the industry: Companies aren't required to publicly disclose exactly where their sources are or how much water each facility bottles. Peter Gleick, author of Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession With Bottled Water, says, "I don't think people have a clue—no one knows" where their bottled water comes from. (Fun facts he's discovered in his research: Everest water comes from Texas, Glacier Mountain comes from Ohio, and only about a third of Poland Spring water comes from the actual Poland Spring, in Maine.)

Despite the fact that almost all U.S. tap water is better regulated and monitored than bottled, and despite the hefty environmental footprint of the bottled water industry, perhaps the biggest reason that bottling companies are using water in drought zones is simply because we're still providing a demand for it: In 2012 in the United States alone, the industry produced about 10 billion gallons of bottled water, with sales revenues at $12 billion. 

As Gleick wrote, "This industry has very successfully turned a public resource into a private commodity." And consumers—well, we're drinking it up.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Who’s Really Buying Property in San Francisco?

    A lot of software developers, according to an unprecedented new analysis.

  2. A toddler breathes from a nebulizer while sitting in a crib.
    Environment

    How Scientists Discovered What Dirty Air Does to Kids’ Health

    The landmark Children’s Health Study tracked thousands of children in California over many years—and transformed our understanding of air pollution’s harms.

  3. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  4. Environment

    No, Puerto Rico’s New Climate-Change Law Is Not a ‘Green New Deal’

    Puerto Rico just adopted legislation that commits it to generating all its power from renewable sources. Here’s what separates that from what’s going on in D.C.

  5. a photo of a beach in Hawaii
    Transportation

    Could Hawaii Be Paradise For Hydrogen-Powered Public Transit?

    As prices drop for renewable power, some researchers hope the island state could be the ideal testbed for hydrogen fuel cells in public transportation.