But, even as “green” as we’d like to be, can Santa Fe handle a tap water-only diet? Teo Insognia, assistant store manager of La Montañita Co-op, doesn’t think so.
“The Park Slope co-op in Brooklyn removed the whole category of bottled water from their store,” he says. “We’ve discussed doing it here, but we feel the community’s not ready for that–there would be a pretty hardcore backlash if we were to do away with it.”
Insognia also notes that, as wasteful as bottled water may be, municipal water standards simply aren’t up to par for many Santa Feans.
While it’s keeping bottled water on the shelves, La Montañita is working to decrease the environmental impact of its RO system, which it recently tested and discovered it wasted 2.3 gallons wasted for every 1.7 gallons vended. Subsequently, Insognia says, it was decided that the store would begin to reclaim the 3,000 gallons of RO waste water produced every week. The water will then be recycled into the landscaping of the entire Solana shopping center, as well as used in the six toilets in the co-op.
Reclamation, Insognia believes, is the wave of the future. “Water purity is really sliding,” he says. “We can do what we can at the municipal level, but it will really be an issue in the future. People want to wrestle water back from the major companies that take it from natural sources and sell it back to them. There’s an increase of reclamation on the community level—and they want to see that their food retailers are doing it too. There’s a high level of accountability for co-ops, and this lets us be role models for people who shop here. We seized the opportunity at store level. It’s a no-brainer; it should have been done earlier.”
That accountability extends to the company that provides La Montañita with its RO water system. President Greg Friedman and General Manager Ramón Lovato of National Water Services, a Santa Fe-based company in business since 1991, counter the anti-RO speak with some statistics of its own.
“There are hundreds of thousands of potential chemicals in municipal water, and the Safe Water Act only tests for less than 150,” Friedman says. “That’s way less than 1 percent. We don’t really know what’s in our water. The nice thing about RO technology is it will remove thousands of different chemicals, so even if you don’t know what’s in the water, you know that when it comes out of there, it’s clean.”
When it comes to why people tend to prefer RO water over tap water, Lovato says, “Taste is a huge issue. The mineral content of our water, plus the things that stay in it in tap water, make it taste bad. When the water tastes bad, people drink less of it. And when they don’t drink water, what do they do? They don’t buy water, they buy sodas. Or they buy bottles of water.”
As far as the environmental footprint is concerned, Friedman says that, for every gallon of water delivered to a store, at least six gallons of water was wasted in its production and shipment. While there is waste water created in the RO process, Lovato contends, “With the impact from our system on the number of empty bottles that don’t make it into the waste stream, the number of water bottles that don’t have to be trucked in from 2,000 miles away, I think it balances out very well. Bottled water carries a much higher cost than what we do locally.”
While there are varying points of view on the pros and cons of bottled water, RO water and tap water, there does seem to be a general consensus that improving municipal water systems nationwide is the long-term solution.
“We need to work on our infrastructure and our distribution systems,” Lovato says. “It’s going to cost billions, if not trillions of dollars to fix all the utilities in this country. There isn’t a politician in the United States today who wants to tell Mr. and Mrs. Consumer that they have to tax them trillions of dollars. Nobody’s going to get elected that way. But I’d rather spend the money on the infrastructure than spend the money in Iraq.”
Read this story's companion piece: Water on the Brain