Nothing fries my bacon like bottled water, and the worst part is I'm not sure who to get mad at. I cringe when I read press releases from progressive, well-managed public water and wastewater utilities justifying a rate increase. Let's put aside the age-old debate of whether or not rates should be raised annually because that's not the issue. No matter how well-written, thoughtful, complete, and reasonable the explanation, someone's going to complain.

This, of course, is the same person who doesn't think twice about paying God knows how much more for virtually the same product at a store. But that product is packaged in lightweight, convenient plastic. He may feel a twinge of guilt but silently pats himself on the back for recycling the bottle, probably unaware that the enormous expenditure of resources that makes the package possible — the petroleum, the manufacturing, the bottling process, the labeling, the shipping — isn't even necessary. We can always just look around for the nearest drinking fountain when we're thirsty.

But that water is manufactured and delivered by the public sector, which by definition is incapable of providing a similar-quality product. As we all know, the private sector never squanders resources or behaves unethically (insert sarcasm). If my local water utility's raising rates again, it's because government is corrupt and has once again mismanaged resources and didn't know what it was doing to begin with. Besides, the groundwater it draws from is polluted — not like the bottled product's source water.

The United States is the world's largest consumer of bottled water. We drink almost 28 gallons per person each year. We'll pay anywhere from 39 cents to $1.25 for 16.9 ounces of bottled water. That translates to $2.95 to $10.01/gallon.

Is that what your operation charges?

Americans say water's more important than any other service: electricity, heat, the Internet, and cell phones. They say (according to a recent survey by pump manufacturer Xylem Inc.) they'd stomach an 11% rate increase to fix pipes and other water infrastructure to stop losing 2 trillion gallons of clean water every year. That's $5.4 billion annually to repair, replace, and/or rehabilitate broken and leaking assets: four times the federal allocation for drinking water programs.

How on earth did we get ourselves into this absurd situation?

Is the private sector that much better at marketing a brand? Because their product isn't a better value on any level: monetarily or socially.

Stephanie Johnston
Editor in Chief