The battle between a group of Maine villagers and mighty Nestlé is the hook upon which Elizabeth Royte hangs Bottlemania, an examination of the pros and cons of consuming bottled water. It’s a huge issue. Sales of bottled water surpass those of milk and beer; Nestlé’s 2006 profits from its water division were $7.46 billion. And that’s only Nestlé. Coke and Pepsi each market purified water, reaping similar yearly profits. Hundreds of other companies both large and small are earning big bucks from spring water, extra-purified tap water, even bottled rain water that never touches the ground. Among the questions Royte asks are these: Why are we willing to pay for something we can draw from a tap in our homes? What does the consumption of water from individual plastic bottles say about our modern culture? And most important: Is this practice environmentally sustainable?

Royte traces the short history of… More…

 

When I was a youngster in Appalachia, my grandfather and I would sometimes go to the Black Valley Spring to fetch water. Granddad’s summer cottage had no plumbing. We made do with rain barrels, a couple of intermittent springs near the house, and extreme conservation methods that included an outhouse. It was never absolutely necessary to tote water from Black Valley Spring, but Granddad liked the taste of it. The spring stood on county land, and as we sank extra-large mayonnaise jars and ceramic jugs into its depths, he would say, “If this gusher was on someone’s private property, it would be worth a lot of money.”

Granddad was right on two counts: The consistent flow of straight-from-the-mountainside water, so clear you could see the minute ridges in the stones at its bottom, would have brought a private… More…