Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Think Globally ... Drink Locally

by Lourdes Castro

I went out to dinner the other night
with a food-industry colleague who suggested we try a new downtown restaurant that had just received a pretty good review by the New York Times. I was eager to try the restaurant but even more eager to catch up and share some industry gossip. We arrived, were seated, and soon were approached by our server who very politely interrupted our conversation to introduce himself. This politeness, however, was overshadowed by his next statement “Would you like still, sparkling, or New York City’s finest?”

Feeling confused (I thought the NYPD was NYC’s finest?) I didn’t offer an immediate response, however, my friend did. “Local water will be fine”. And with that our server was gone, followed shortly thereafter by a second server holding a beautiful glass carafe of NYC municipal water.

I have always heard that NYC has some of the country’s best water – but I, and I’m sure many others - chalked it up to an urban myth. However, my friend was quick to explain to me that our water supply is in fact one of the country’s best.

The Catskill Mountains’ watershed supplies NYC with its drinking water, and as a result of its integrity and undisturbed natural water filtration process, New York is one of only 5 major cities in the US with drinking water pure enough to not require purification by water treatment plants.

This conversation reminded me of the recent editorial in the New York Times which addressed the effect that all the plastic bottles from our water consumption is having on the environment. Since 2001, bottled water consumption has risen 60%. That has resulted in our use of 1.5 million barrels of oil a year to produce the plastic needed just for the bottles. To put that into perspective, that same amount of oil could fuel 100,000 cars in that same year. And when you account for the oil needed to transport the water from as far away as Fiji and the energy required to refrigerate it, it really starts adding up.

But is bottled water better for us than tap water? It depends. Believe it or not many brands of bottled water just slightly purify tap water. Add to that the low stringency in regulation for bottled water versus that for municipal water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates municipal water and requires multiple daily tests for bacteria whose results are available to the public. Bottled water is regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which only requires weekly testing that doesn’t have to be publicly reported.

So should you stop using the convenience bottled water affords us? It’s your choice. However, the next time you are at a restaurant feel free to know you really have three choices of pure and acceptable water to chose from.