Bottling Kingston’s Water

By Tom Hackett
Ward 5
Kingston, NY

For those who do not live in this area, or who do live in this area but have not been following the news these past few weeks, there is a proposal by Niagara Bottling to purchase from the Kingston Water Department up to 1.75 gallons per day (or about one quarter of the water system's capacity).
The water would be bottled and sold at retail. The bottling plant would be located, not in Kingston, but in the Town of Ulster near Tech City, a former IBM facility.
This proposal is controversial, and many have spoken out against it. Unfortunately, some opponents and proponents have tended to focus on one or two aspects at a time, rather than the whole picture. This leads some to the conclusion that either the opponents are single-minded fanatics or that the proponents need only to show how one or the other objection can be overcome, and everything will be fine.
In order to present a broader picture, I am listing what I believe to be the top eight concerns.

  1. Water is a natural resource that, regardless of common law, legislation or legal precedent, cannot be owned by anyone. It exists for use by everyone. The United Nations recognizes the right of everyone to water (Resolution 64/292). As such, its sale to a private or publicly held corporation for the purpose of profit is morally repugnant and an abuse of the capitalist system.
  2. There is a question as to whether there is really sufficient “surplus water” in or available to the system to allow the amount requested to be withdrawn, even in times of drought or other shortages. It is impossible to determine at this time what the effect of climate change on the water supply will be.
  3. There is a concern that, unlike when IBM withdrew a lesser amount of water, this water will be removed from the area entirely and not returned to the Hudson Valley ecosystem.
  4. The production of bottled water will also entail the manufacture of additional plastic bottles. While most of these bottles will be shipped out of the area, there is a concern that the plastic will result in environmental harm wherever it ends up.
  5. It is believed that the manufacture of the plastic bottles will result in the discharge of waste water, most likely into the lower Esopus Creek, causing potential harm to occupants of the Town of Ulster and the Town of Saugerties and to the Hudson River into which the Esopus flows. The Hudson River provides a home for numerous plant and animal species and is the source of drinking water for several downstream communities.
  6. There will be increased truck traffic (as many as 260 trucks per day) in the area of the bottling plant. The trucks may have several undesirable effects:

(a) Increased noise for people working and living in the area.

(b) Increased wear and tear on local roads and highway infrastructure.

(c) Traffic congestion for those living and working in the area, or just driving through.

(d) Degradation of air quality

  1. The entire process will significantly increase the use of fossil fuels, expanding the area's carbon footprint. This may adversely affect climate change and might even diminish the availability of water to the entire system, jeopardizing whatever calculations are made to determine the amount of “surplus water” available.
  2. Niagara Bottling has brought lawsuits against other municipalities with whom the company has had dealings. The cost of litigating such lawsuits and of any judgments or settlements resulting therefrom is difficult to estimate.

Water is a human right. Collecting water for sale to others is morally questionable. While there are legitimate uses for bottled water, for profit corporations have relentlessly marketed bottled water where plain, abundant tap water is readily available, such as in New York City.
If a municipality or any other entity has a system with “surplus water,” and another group of people, through no fault of theirs, has a shortage of water, it is only reasonable and fair that those with the surplus should share water with those with a deficit in the most efficient way possible, charging only what it actually costs to provide the water in the most efficient way. A railroad car can hold up to 34,500 gallons of water. If water is sold in pint bottles, that would require 276,000 bottles. This is wasteful and harmful to the environment.

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