Bottled-water companies can tap public supply
I understand the need to conserve water, but would like to know if there are restrictions on the use of our precious water for companies who bottle and sell water. Why are companies bottling local water for sale, when this is a dwindling commodity here in Hawaii?
Answer: It comes down to free enterprise -- the companies pay the Board of Water Supply for the water they use, like any other customer, and there are no restrictions on what they do with that water.
There are several water bottling companies on Oahu that utilize water from the municipal system, said Board of Water Supply spokeswoman Wanda Yamane. "There is no restriction as to the use of ground water for this purpose."
The agency has different "quantity charges" for different categories of customers. In addition to residential rates, there are rates for agricultural, nonpotable use, primarily irrigation. There also are rates for nonresidential use -- commercial, industrial, hotel, parks and schools.
The flat fee for nonresidential use is $2.51 per 1,000 gallons, as of July 1, Yamane said.
Because bottled water companies are "just customers, like anybody else," they can't be singled out for restrictions.
If mandatory restrictions are placed on water consumption, it would be across the board, Yamane said, although the Board of Water Supply has "asked for greater (voluntary conservation) effort by some government and commercial users."
The board is asking only for voluntary conservation by all Oahu consumers during the peak-usage summer months.
"We're not in as bad straits as the Big Island or Maui, but conservation is important, especially during summer, when the highest use historically is," she said. The advice is "to use all the water you need, but not to waste it."
ASSOCIATED PRESS / APRIL 2006
The Aquafina label recently came under fire for allegedly misleading consumers into thinking its water may have originated from some mountain source, but there is no federal or state regulation regarding citing the source of the water. According to a Department of Health official, it doesn't matter what the source of the water is, all bottled-water companies in Hawaii must obtain a food establishment permit to operate.
Yamane pointed out that bottled water drawn from a public water system is not considered a utility, but a food product. It is regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration (see www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/bot-h2o.html
) and, in Hawaii, by the state Department of Health.
It doesn't matter what the source of the water is, all bottled-water companies in Hawaii must obtain a food establishment permit to operate, said Lori Nagatoshi, supervisor of the Department of Health's Food and Drug Branch.
The department has issued 36 permits to bottled-water companies in Hawaii, she said, many of them involved in desalinating ocean water for export.
It's estimated that about 25 percent of the bottled water sold in the United States is drawn from public water systems. That includes two of the leading national brands -- PepsiCo's Aquafina and Coca-Cola's Dasani.
While the Aquafina label recently was under fire for allegedly misleading consumers into thinking its water may have originated from some mountain source, there is no federal or state regulation regarding citing the source of the water.
Under FDA regulations, labels must give the name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor, allowing consumers to contact the company if they want to obtain information about the product. Members of the International Bottled Water Association also provide phone numbers on proprietary brands, according to the association (see www.bottledwater.org/public/policies/labeling.html for its position on the subject of labeling requirements).
Basically, if the label doesn't say artesian, mineral, spring or well water, which have to meet federal and state criteria, you can assume it came from a public water system, Nagatoshi said.
Under Section 328D of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, in order for bottlers to use the term "artesian water," the water must come from a well tapping a confined aquifer in which the water level stands above the water table; "mineral water" must contain not less than 500 parts per million total dissolved solids; "spring water" must be derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth; and "well water" should be drawn from a hole bored, drilled, or constructed in the ground and which taps the water of an aquifer.
The use of the word "purified" is a sign that the water came from a public source, Nagatoshi said.
Purified water is produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis, or some other "suitable process."
Just because the water is drawn from a public system doesn't mean it can go straight from the tap into a bottle, Nagatoshi said.
There are standards and regulations regarding bottled water production, and different processes and treatments that bottled waters go through, she said.
"It is a regulated industry," Nagatoshi emphasized.
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