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Local Company Markets California Water

The trendy bottled water you’re drinking is often just tap water in disguise. In the case of a young company here in Eugene, it’s actually out-of-state tap water. Emerald Valley H2O is marketing an “eco-friendly” brand of bottled water that uses plastic bottles made from 100 percent recycled materials, with some of its water sourced from Southern California municipal water. When a glass of local tap water costs less than a cent and doesn’t require a throwaway plastic container, bottling water from California and sending it to Eugene has an environmental impact.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, Americans gulped down over 8 billion gallons of bottled water in 2009, costing consumers over 300 times more per gallon than tap water, not to mention the expense and environmental impact of creating, transporting and recycling the plastic bottles. “Just because we recycle doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reduce,” says Sarah Grimm, waste reduction specialist for Lane County. “It’s much more important to reduce your use of materials. Buying a whole new bottle is going to be more environmentally intensive.”

Local company Emerald Valley H2O markets its bottled water brand, ecoh2o, with the slogan, “Bottled water going green.” Manager Mike Scnear says some of its water is sourced from a spring near Mt. Palomar in Southern California, where the water is extracted and then transported to a “green” bottling facility in Commerce, Calif. The water undergoes extensive sanitization and filtration processes before being bottled and shipped about 1,000 miles north to Eugene. In addition to spring water, ecoh2o uses Los Angeles County municipal water to manufacture its electrolyte-enhanced bottled water, putting it through an additional two steps of purification before bottling it. Much of L.A. county’s water comes from the Colorado River via a 242-mile aqueduct.

But by national standards, local EWEB water — Eugene’s municipal water supply — is already considered pristine, and drinking it doesn’t necessitate the production and transportation of plastic bottles. According to EWEB’s 2012 Consumer Confidence Report, EWEB’s water quality met or exceeded all water safety standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. “We actually do really well in terms of our water quality,” says Joe Harwood, external communications coordinator for EWEB. “We’ve been consistently designated an outstanding performer.”

“We know that water bottles take a bad rap in the media,” Scnear of ecoh2o says. “But if people don’t buy stuff that’s made from post-consumer plastic, we’re not benefiting the reason we recycle.” He says that he hopes to eventually open a bottling plant in Oregon.

Sales manager Brandon LaDuke says ecoh2o’s water is cleaner than tap water, and their filtration processes remove chlorine, salts and traces of sulfur. “The bottles set us apart. It’s all BPA-free,” he says. “That’s the beauty of it; we have this good water and good bottles to back it up.” Ecoh2o’s website says that their bottles leave a 65 percent smaller carbon footprint than other brands, due to the recycled elements in the bottles. 

Local PepsiCo products distributor Bigfoot Beverages also disseminates a few brands of bottled water, including Aquafina, which comes from an undisclosed “public water source,” and EARTH2O, which sources its water from Opal Springs in Central Oregon and bottles it near Culver, Ore.

“How much more ‘ecological’ could you get to have water delivered right to your tap, without any plastic bottles?” says Lance Robertson, EWEB public affairs manager, in an email. “The bottled water industry likes to paint tap water as scary and dangerous. Maybe there are issues in other cities, but here in Eugene and Springfield, we have great and very clean tap water.”

And it’s hard to beat when it comes to cost — local tap water costs about .38 cents per gallon, including basic charges that cover EWEB’s infrastructure costs. A 23.7 ounce bottle of ecoh2o goes for $1.19 at most retailers.

This story has been updated.