Peter Gleick: We Need a “Local Water” Movement

More and more restaurateurs are shifting to encourage healthy foods and sustainable agriculture grown nearby – a campaign many call “local food.” It is time to launch what I’ll call a “local water” campaign to encourage consumers to turn away from bottled water and back toward local sources of supply.

Bottled water is convenient. And we’re increasingly being told to fear our tap water. But there is a serious cost to bottled water, both economically and environmentally. Economically, bottled water is a thousand times more expensive than tap water (if you pay around $1 per cubic meter at home, or around $1000 an acre-foot, which as my previous post showed was not unusual, and $1 for a liter of bottled water, also not unusual).

Dr. Peter Gleick is an internationally recognized water expert and was named a MacArthur Fellow for his work in October 2003.

Environmentally, bottled water has many costs, from the energy cost of making the bottle and producing the final product, to the cost of transporting it, to the costs of disposing (one way or another) of the billions of bottles we drink in the U.S. every year.

Water Number: Four (4)
Four is the approximate energy cost in megajoules per liter (MJ/l) of manufacturing a plastic water bottle. Four is also the approximate number of liters (or gallons) of water that are consumed in making a single liter (or gallon) of bottled water. And four is the approximate energy cost in MJ/l of moving bottled water from Fiji to Los Angeles – neither the highest nor the lowest energy cost of transporting bottled water. These numbers come from a journal article on the energy implications of bottled water by P. Gleick and H. Cooley.

If you drink local tap water, the energy costs for treatment and distribution are far, far lower – typically only around 0.005 MJ/l – or around a thousandth as much as bottled water. There is no plastic bottle to put in a landfill or try to recycle. And the money you spend goes to your local water system rather than a multinational corporation outside of your community.

Should bottled water be banned? No. But relegate it to its rightful place: a luxury item to be purchased for reasons of necessity or vanity, not routine. Drink local water!

Dr. Gleick’s blog posts are provided in cooperation with the SFGate. Previous posts can be found here.

1 reply
  1. Stephanie Schlosser says:


    There is a fantastic local water movement happening called “Tap It”, They go out and find places on the go where you can refill your water bottle for free. If everyone just found one location and added it in, the database would grow exponentially and so would awareness at the same time. It was started by Kylie Harper and I believe its all volunteer.


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