San Mateo Co. to stop buying bottled water

June 10, 2009 2:38:37 PM PDT
San Mateo County will stop purchasing bottled water under a new ordinance that takes effect July 1.

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The ordinance prohibits spending taxpayer dollars on bottled water, except in emergencies. County officials said they believe the change will both save money and help protect the environment.

The Board of Supervisors adopted the ordinance on May 19. The new policy is expected to save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, Community Services Analyst Jeremy Dennis said today.

The county spends about $140,000 a year on large jugs of water and dispensers for its employees, and possibly up to hundreds of thousands of dollars on individual bottles of water, Dennis said.

Now, the county's roughly 5,500 employees will be redirected to kitchen sinks and water fountains for their water needs.

Dennis said he surveyed county residents to see if they could distinguish between tap water and bottled water.

"Most people couldn't tell the difference," he said.

He said the quality of bottled water is often not much better than tap water.

"Some bottled water is just tap water from somewhere else," he said. "We already have access to healthy water. Let's take advantage."

Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen said county environmental health officials have been testing local tap water and have not found any problems with it.

Dennis said that only about 10 percent of water bottles are recycled in California, and that it takes 3 liters of water to manufacture just 1 liter of bottled water.

An exception will be made for storing water for potential emergencies and "extraordinary circumstances," Jensen said.

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