Bottled Water Could Return to National Parks

Lobbyists seek to overturn ban

Jul 13, 2015
Outside Magazine
Grand Canyon

In 2011, Park Service Director John Jarvis requested a large reduction in sales of disposable plastic water bottles.    Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr

The House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill last week that would put a stop to restrictions on disposable water bottle use in national parks, according to the Washington Post

Since 2011, when Park Service Director John Jarvis issued a memo to greatly reduce the sales of disposable plastic water bottles in the parks system, destinations including the Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, and Mount Rushmore have taken his recommendations to heart, swearing off sales of bottled water and documenting the expense of added refilling stations for nondisposable water containers, as well as the savings in trash disposal and recycling costs. Zion National Park officials claimed to have taken 60,000 bottles of water out of the park’s recycling and trash disposal burden.

Not everyone has been happy with the change. Last April, the International Bottled Water Association, a lobbying organization that represents the $13.1 billion bottled water industry, wrote to Jarvis, warning that removing disposable plastic water bottles from the parks system would have “adverse impacts on public health and safety,” according to the Post.

Representatives for the IBWA, including Chris Hogan, vice president of communications, say that omitting bottled water from available options at Park Service concession stands makes visitors more likely to buy sugary drinks, such as soda. Hogan’s concerns have been echoed by members of Congress, including Rep. Keith Rothfus, who spoke on the issue on the House floor.

“Families who don’t own expensive camping equipment and aren’t experienced hikers and climbers will be surprised to find out that they can’t buy their child a bottle of water at one of our national parks,” Rep. Rothfus said. “Visitors who may have forgotten or have run out of water could be put at risk of dehydration.”

While the Park Service, a strictly nonpartisan government agency, has declined to give an opinion on the use of plastic bottles, representatives from the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit advocacy group, say the IBWA is acting self-interestedly and that the health concerns are spurious.

“There’s no reason for this bill to come out of left field,” David Nimkin, NPCA senior regional director for the southwest, told the Post, calling the restrictions on bottled water “a reasonable and appropriate move on the part of the Park Service to help its visitors recognize that water is critically important.”

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