Bottled Water Still Coming From Drought-Stricken California: Which Brands to Avoid

Categories: Ethical Eating

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Right now, California is knee-deep in the third driest year in its history (since we've been recording, anyway).

To combat the issue, in July, the state enacted drastic actions to reduce water consumption, including $500 fines for watering gardens, washing cars, or hosing down sidewalks. It's pretty serious.

With forceful measures in place, one would think that there would be a ban on exporting water from the nearly barren state.

Apparently not. Many of the big bottled water companies are still tapping California's supplies and sending it to wetter, more fertile states.

See Also: Corona Beer 12-Ounce Glass Bottles Recalled

According to an article published by the Atlantic, chances are your bottled water is coming from the drought-stricken region.

Spring water, which is gathered from pools at the Earth's surface or from boreholes tapping into underground sources, accounts for about 55 percent of bottled water in the U.S.

The rest, however, is pulled from municipal water supplies and treated -- it's the same exact thing that freely flows from your (or someone else's) faucet.

Regardless of whether it's derived from a naturally occurring spring, a spout drilled into one, or just a city reservoir, there's a good chance the bottled water you picked up at the grocery store is coming from the area that needs it most. (For the record: Lake Okeechobee levels are slightly above its historical average for this time of year.)

Four huge companies pull their water from California: Aquafina, Dasani, Crystal Geyser, and Arrowhead.

The first two pull tap water from city sources, treat it, package it, and sell it to vending machines and chain stores around the country, while Crystal Geyser and Arrowhead source their H2O from springs.

While the amount of water used for bottling in California is microscopic in terms of the amounts used for overall food and beverage production -- according to the Atlantic, "a whopping 80 percent of the state's water supply goes toward agriculture" -- it's still preposterous that we are buying water from an area experiencing an extreme drought (especially when much of it is the same as the free water that comes out of a tap).

There are several reasons for this: Many water companies just started bottling water in California (Arrowhead has been operating for more than a century) and its the only state in the West without groundwater regulation or management. Any company can come in, drill, and take whatever water it so desires.

If you're even slightly concerned with environmental issues, there's no doubt you've heard about wasteful nature of sourcing, bottling, and shipping the same thing that freely flows through the pipes of our homes; however, it seems that most of us aren't too bothered with giving up bottles of water. In 2012, the bottled water industry in the United States produced 10 billion gallons, with sales reaching $12 billion.

Hey, you've heard about keeping it local for food. Why not do the same with water?

Buy a filter, a reusable bottle, and save yourself some money in the process.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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I am with the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and wanted to share a few important facts about bottled water and about the The Atlantic story referenced in your article. You can also view our press release ( which provides consumers with some additional facts and information about bottled water and California’s drought. 

Most importantly, the claim that “your bottled water is coming from California” is completely false. Most of the bottled water from California sources is sold in California. It is not part of our industry’s usual business model to ship bottles of water thousands of miles from where it is produced due to high transportation costs. Bottled water plants are located through the country and produce bottled water for customers in that area. We have created this map ( to help people understand that bottled water is made all over the U.S., not only in California. It is also not helpful to refer to only 4 out of the scores of brands produced and sold all over the country in your story as if these are the only ones operating in the U.S., especially considering one of the brands is mostly sold in California.

The amount of water used for bottling water in California is very small. In fact, bottled water production from groundwater sources accounts for less than 0.02% of the total groundwater withdrawn in the U.S. each year. While that figure may vary slightly by location, the amount of water used for bottled water is only a fraction of overall water use in California, or any other state. To put it in context, the entire U.S. bottled water market was about 10 billion gallons in 2013. The city of Los Angeles goes through that amount of tap water in less than three weeks. According to the UCLA Institute for Environment and Sustainability, at about 80%, agriculture is the largest user of water in the state, followed by urban residential use at 13%.

You also refer to purified bottled water, typically sourced from municipal water supplies, as, “the same exact thing that freely flows from your (or someone else's) faucet.” That's simply not true. Purified water must meet strict federal standards. Once the source water enters the bottled water plant, several processes are employed to ensure that it meets the FDA’s purified water standard. These treatments may include one or more of the following: reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, and ultraviolet (UV) light.The finished water product is then placed in a bottle under sanitary conditions and sold to the consumer.

Bottled water is comprehensively regulated by the FDA as a packaged food product.By federal law, the FDA regulations governing the safety and quality of bottled water must be at least as stringent as the EPA standards for tap water.And, in some very important cases like lead, coliform bacteria, and E. coli, bottled water regulations are substantially more stringent.

Water resource management is a very important issue to the bottled water industry, and sustainable, protected, and naturally recharged water sources are the single most important aspect of our business.

You can learn more at


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