Inter-Departmental Correspondence



April 20, 2009


May 5, 2009







Honorable Board of Supervisors


David S. Boesch, County Manager


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Prohibition of Use of County Funds for the Purchase of Bottled Water



Adopt an ordinance amending sections 4.106.010, 4.106.020, 4.106.030 and 4.106.060 of Title 4, Chapter 4.106 of the San Mateo County Ordinance Code regulating the County’s use of disposable food service ware and bottled water.


VISION ALIGNMENT: Preserve and provide people access to our natural environment; Responsible, effective and collaborative government.


Goal(s): 14. Important natural resources are preserved and enhanced through environmental stewardship.

20. Government decisions are based on careful consideration of future impact, rather than temporary relief or immediate gain.



Over the past ten years, bottled water has become the preferred source of water for Americans. This shift has come for a variety of reasons, but concern about climate change is starting to reverse this trend for the following reasons:


Tap water is safe. Compared to many bottled waters, tap water is tested more stringently and regulated more closely.

Tap water is cheap. A gallon of tap water costs about 0.003 cents compared to $1.50 to $3.00 a gallon for bottled water. The county spends over $146,000 a year on bottled water, water stands and cups.

Bottled water is not environmentally friendly. According to the Sierra Club, about 85% of water bottles are not recycled; the bottling and transportation of bottled water generates over 2.5 million tons of CO2.


In addition to water quality, taste is cited as the reason people drink bottled rather than tap water. To test this concern, the Green Team sponsored a taste test at the Green BBQ on August 21, 2008. Over 50% of the testers could not tell the difference between bottled Crystal Geyser water and water from the Redwood City campus taps.


Some County departments have already eliminated bottled water purchases, including Environmental Health in their new facilities at 2000 Alameda; the Department of Housing; the Department of Public Works in its 555 County Center offices; the Planning and Building Department; the Controller; the Department of Child Support Services, and the Health system (including the Medical Center).



The proposed ordinance expands the current prohibition of expenditures on non-recyclable food ware to include a prohibition of expenditures for bottled water. The ordinance, which would be effective as of July 1, 2009, contains an automatic waiver provision for emergency response and preparedness. In addition, Departments can request a waiver from the County Manager if a tap water source typically or normally used for the consumption of water is not available and no practical alternative to bottled water exists and/or that that imposing the requirements of the prohibition would cause significant hardship.


The Green Team will promote the consumption of tap water and phase out the purchase of bottled water through an education effort to inform County employees of the safety, value and environmental benefits of consuming tap water.


If requested by a department head, water testing could be conducted for a minimal fee through a contract between the Department of Public Works and Testing America, Inc.



Discontinuing the purchase of larger bottled water systems (water purchases, rentals of stands, and cups) would save the County of San Mateo approximately $146,000 a year. Additional savings would come from ending the purchase of smaller bottles of water. Some of the savings would be offset by one-time expenses to test water, install filtration and/or instant hot systems and purchase pitchers and cups for staff and guest use. It is estimated that these one-time costs would be minimal, and would be paid by Departments.