Bottled water leaves bad taste in taxpayers' mouths

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by David Alan

WVEC

Posted on November 15, 2010 at 7:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 17 at 2:14 PM

NORFOLK -- Water.  It’s the planet's most abundant resource and it flows from your tap for almost free.

When you bottle it, mark it up as much as 4000% and sell it, some say that's money down the drain.

Statistics show 43% of all bottled water sold in the U.S. is re-packaged tap water.

In 2009, Governor Tim Kaine issued a directive that state agencies should no longer buy bottled water, saving taxpayers an estimated $160,000 a year.

Last May, 13News asked Governor Bob McDonnell if he planned to keep the ban on bottled water.

"We certainly are not paying for bottled water in this tough budget time," McDonnell said at the time.

When we asked whether there was any chance he'd lift the ban on bottled water, he stated, "We just cut $4 billion out of the budget and reduced money for health care and schools. I don't consider bottled water a priority."

In July, two months after that interview in which he touted his administration's fiscal discipline, McDonnell lifted the ban on bottled water.

That same day, as he warned more belt-tightening might be coming, McDonnell dismissed his flip-flop on bottled water.

"That's not a big issue. We've cut some $100 million in some areas. I just didn't think putting a ban in that area was really necessary. We have a big bottled water industry in Virginia," McDonnell noted.

Several people disagreed, saying bottled water shouldn't be on their tab.

Natasha Crawley felt, "That's a waste of money. That's not right."

Ellen Petko also was troubled that taxpayers were paying for bottled water.

"I don't feel very good about that, especially when they're making cuts in so many other things like schools and educational spending," she stated.

Corporate Accountability International told 13News that Governor McDonnell’s decision sends the wrong message about the quality of the state's public water systems.

"What's in the bottle is not necessarily what's better than what comes from our tap," declared spokesperson Kristin Urquriza.

The corporate watchdog group also suggested McDonnell is more interested in protecting cushy state contracts than saving taxpayer money or protecting the environment.

"There seems like there's a lot of close connections between the bottled water industry potentially and the state government," Urquriza added.

In 2009, Shenandoah Valley Water Company got a lion’s share of what the state spent on bottled water. Chris Saxman, the company's general manager, is a former state delegate, an education advisor to Governor McDonnell and a former co-chair of John McCain's presidential campaign in Virginia.

Just days before we questioned the governor about Shenandoah Valley Water, Saxman was among the invited guests at a reception at the governor’s mansion.

Saxman states good prices and good service - not politics - is why his company gets so much state business. Saxman accused former Governor Kaine of playing politics by banning bottled water as a gift to environmentalists.

Only three states currently ban bottled water -- New York, Colorado and Illinois.

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