Water Expert Peter Gleick Calls Out IBWA for Misleading Statistics

Peter Gleick is an expert on water issues, and in his San Francisco Chronicle blog, he offers reasoned, intelligent, adult commentary about things like water rights, water conservation, and yes, the bottled water industry.

In this case, he takes aim at tactics of the IBWA (the bottled water industry trade association) for creating and publicizing irrelevant statistics:

In recent years, there has been growing public opposition to the construction of large spring water bottling plants in small rural communities in Maine, Michigan, California, Colorado and elsewhere because of fear, and some direct physical evidence, that such large plants adversely affect local groundwater levels, flowing springs and local wetlands.

In response, the bottled water industry, led by the International Bottled Water Association, launched a campaign (including testimony to state and federal legislators) arguing that there was no problem because “ground water withdrawals for bottled water production represent only 0.019 percent of the total fresh ground water withdrawals in the U.S.”

Ah, here rears the ugly head of the denominator problem. This number is probably very close to true. It is also completely irrelevant and misleading.

The proper denominator should not be total U.S. groundwater withdrawals, it should be some measure of local groundwater availability, or use, or yield — a much smaller denominator. In this case, a bottled water withdrawal may be a very significant fraction of local groundwater. But by choosing a big denominator, the industry was attempting to disguise a problem.

You can read the entirety of Peter Gleick’s post here: Peter Gleick: The Denominator Problem; Misleading Use of Water Numbers | Circle of Blue | WaterNews.

Frankly, we’re not surprised that the IBWA would rely on misinformation; despite the industry’s warm, fuzzy exterior, we’ve seen several instances where the association has attacked the quality of tap water – the classic attempt to create doubt about what comes out your tap.

It’s largely rubbish, but it’s par for the course for the IBWA – an employee of which was called out on this blog for posting industry talking points on the Huffington Post without identifying himself as an industry schill.

That was former Tobacco Institute spokesperson Tom Lauria (who pops up in the comments section below the post and levels on amusing charge after another), and if you wonder why the IBWA hired Mr. Lauria, it’s because – with their bottom line under attack by the recession and the bottled water backlash – creating doubt about the quality of tap water remains their only hope of sustaining an unsustainable, largely pointless product.

Need we point out that Nestle Waters of North America – the leading water bottler worldwide – is the big dog in the IBWA? And that Nestle CEO Kim Jeffries has been quoted as saying that municipal water supplies “go down a lot”?