Entrenched in a financial crunch that has necessitated tuition increases and budget cuts, University of California reportedly spent approximately $2 million on bottled water over the past few years, according to the New York Times.
UC San Francisco paid water-bottling company Arrowhead between $250,000 and $320,000 annually for the past six years, the Times reported. UC Berkeley paid the same company about $520,000 for water delivered between 2006 and 2009.
Overall, UC Office of the President Spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said UC’s annual budget is $20.1 billion.
The San Francisco Bay Area is known for its excellent drinking water quality, which the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission claims is “among the purest in the world.” Sustainability website SustainLaine.com ranks the city as having the fourth best water-quality in the nation.
Water bottle usage may not be as exorbitant at UC Davis, but Arrowhead deliverer Vladimir Macias said the school still receives an average of 220 five-gallon jugs every day, with 260 jugs just for Picnic Day.
“[It’s for] all the UC Davis employees and administrative departments,” Macias said. “Every two weeks, [we deliver] 200 [jugs] for administrators in Mrak Hall.”
Macias said that when cuts have been made to the university’s bottled water usage, custodians who work in the university dormitories have contributed their own money to continue purchasing Arrowhead water jugs.
UC Davis Hydrology and Geomorphology Professor Gregory Pasternack sees a cultural contradiction in the success of the bottled water industry.
“It is culturally acceptable to spend $1.25 on 20 ounces [.156 gallons] of Dasani water in the campus vending machine. So people are spending $8 per gallon of water,” Pasternack said in an e-mail interview, adding that grocery store prices are about 25 cents per gallon while tap water is free. “People seem very agitated by spending $4 per gallon on gasoline as they spend $8 per gallon on bottled water.”
Pasternack has made a personal effort to curb the university’s demand for bottled water.
“I was actually able to advocate successfully to get my building to cancel its bottled water service and instead install a high-capacity water purifier,” he said. “We are saving a ton of money and we still get great water.”
Davis water quality, according to the city’s 2009 Water Quality Report that is mailed to residents every year, meets all the standards of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Of the 22 groundwater wells from which the city’s water is extracted, surveyors found only two isolated cases in which contaminants exceeded federal limits. One well had an excess of manganese while the other had an excess of “dissolved solids.”
The well with excess manganese is no longer used. It is only to be called upon in emergency situations. The well containing excess “dissolved solids,” however, is still in use, but the overabundance of its contaminant poses no health risks and only alters the aesthetic qualities of the water.
Students informed about the UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco bottled water expenditures were quick to fault the universities.
“I think especially in this budget crisis, it isn’t really necessary, not to mention it’s bad for the environment,” said Alison Callow, first-year international relations major in reference to the transportation necessary to deliver bottled water.
Undeclared sophomore Shirelle Sharf said she also believes bottled water is unnecessary.
“It’s not important to me – water is water,” she said.
Tap water may sometimes have its problems – water sources may be naturally contaminated or old piping may sometimes cause the contamination – but if a city’s tap water is unsafe to drink, municipalities are required by law to inform their residents.
“Free clean drinking water is one of the great achievements of a modern civilization founded on a merit-based technocracy balanced by democracy and a free press,” Pasternack said.
YARA ELMJOUIE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.