Inter-Departmental Correspondence

County Manager



April 20, 2009


May 5, 2009







Honorable Board of Supervisors


David S. Boesch, County Manager


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): Goal 14. Important natural resources are preserved and enhanced through environmental stewardship. Goal 20. Government decisions are based on careful consideration of future impact, rather than temporary relief or immediate gain.




Costs to Purchase Bottled Water

The County spends approximately $146,000 a year on water cooler-style bottled water. The costs include $119,289, for over 44,000 gallons of bottled water, rent for 821 hot/cold water stands, costing $24,630 total and $4,681 for the purchase of 188,000 cups a year. In addition, departmental budgets are utilized to purchase individual bottles of water for meetings and events.


Water Quality Comparison

Bottled water quality is monitored and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tap water is monitored and regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In general, EPA sets water quality standards. The FDA examines EPA tap water standards and revises regulations for bottled water when deemed necessary.


Water for use in bottled water can come from any of a number of sources. The source must be “inspected and the water sampled, analyzed, and found to be of a safe and sanitary quality according to applicable laws and regulations of State and local government agencies having jurisdiction.” Different local agency standards lead to differences in bottled water quality. As a result, the EPA states on their website that “bottled water is not necessarily safer than your tap water”. Even the president of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), the global bottled water trade association that represents 85% of all bottled water manufactures in the United States, has said, “I will not state that bottled water is healthier.”


With different rules at the Federal, state and local level, bottled water quality varies greatly. As stated by the EPA, “some bottled water is treated more than tap water, while some is treated less or not treated at all”. Additionally, there are considerable differences between the types of regulations employed by the two Federal agencies, including acceptable levels of a variety of potential contaminants, types of tests used, and regulations to control sources and operations. Below are a sample of differences in the types of monitoring and regulations between the two water sources:


Tap Water

Bottled Water

Water must be filtered/disinfected for parasitic organisms

No federal requirement

Water must be tested by certified lab.

No federal requirement.

Water system operators trained and certified

No federal requirement.

E-Coli and Fecal Coliform banned

No federal requirement.

All violations must be reported to state/feds

No violations need to be reported/sales can continue to be sold if any concerns raised

Testing for synthetic organic chemicals must take place once a quarter

No federal requirements.

Tap water providers are required to provide the public with reports on a regular basis/public has a legal “right to know” about any contamination

No federal requirements/ no legal “right to know” for the public.

Water must be tested for bacteria at least 20 times a month

Bottled water must be tested for bacteria once a month

Surface water used for a public water system must be protected, under EPA guidelines

Bottled water sources are protected under varying types of state and local guidelines; there is no federal standard for the protection of a bottled water source


A key point is that if water is bottled and sold in the same state, there are no federal safety requirements (this accounts for between 60-70% of all bottled water sold in the United States).


As stated above, states can and have passed their own regulations that could expand on Federal requirements. Water bottled in California does have some additional rules, particularly around annual reporting made publicly available, but none appear to increase testing or otherwise positively affect water quality beyond the FDA requirements listed above. These requirements only affect water bottled in California.


The sources of bottled water can also vary widely. Although dated, a Natural Resources Defense Council study showed that some bottled water sources included local tap water and water from an industrial parking lot next to a hazardous waste site. A quarter of all bottled water sources originated from a public water system source. According to multiple sources reviewed while researching this memo, close to half of all bottled water sold in the United States is from a public water source.


One of the determining factors for consumers in choosing between bottled water and tap water is taste. The taste difference comes from different methods to disinfect the water. Most public water agencies use chlorine or chloramines to disinfect the water, while most bottlers use reverse osmosis, ozone or ultraviolet methods while stripping out chlorine if their source is a public water agency. One other major difference is that public water sources contain fluoride, while bottled water either strips it from their water and/or adds it back to their product.


Finally, it should be stated that many bottled water companies chose to monitor their products at levels that may exceed EPA requirements, resulting in a higher quality product. Individual state requirements may also compel bottled water companies to follow more stringent requirements.


Environmental Costs

The production of bottled water has a major impact on the environment. The Sierra Club recently catalogued a number of environmental issues from the production of bottled water:


In 2004 (the last year data was collected), 85% of all water bottles were not recycled

2006 statistics suggested that the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil were used to produce bottled water that year, as bottles contain high levels of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a derivative of crude oil

Three liters of water are used to produce one liter of bottled water

Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide; 800,000 from its production, and the remainder from its delivery

Leaching of other chemicals from the plastic in the bottles increases with heat and age, and depending on the storage of the bottles, can cause potential health problems.1


There are also significant differences in the costs of purchasing bottled versus tap water. Tap water, on average, costs the consumer on average .003 cents per gallon, while delivered bottled water costs between $1.50 and $3.00 per gallon. The great difference in the cost of bottled water (240 to 10,000 times more than its equivalent in tap water) is a function of the amount of fossil fuels required to bottle and deliver the product. The production of bottled water contributes to global warming.


To this day, the majority of recyclable bottles are not recycled, resulting in upwards of 80% of bottles ending up in landfills (this resulted in over 1 billion water bottles in California landfills alone). Water bottles in landfills leak toxic additives, such as phthalates, into the groundwater; these bottles take 1,000 years to biodegrade. Additionally streams and aquifers can be depleted if the source of the bottled water is a spring or other underground source, putting a huge burden on any local community that obtains its tap water from that source.


Municipal Action

In recent years, many cities have banned public expenditures on purchasing bottled water. Some municipal actions include:



San Francisco, CA - In June 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom signed an Executive Directive prohibiting the use of city money to purchase single-serving bottled water as of July 2007.


San Jose, CA – In June 2008, the City ended the purchase of single-serving bottled water.


Santa Barbara, CA - The City ended the purchase of bottled water in April of 2007.


Los Angeles, CA - The City has not purchased bottled water since 1987.


Emeryville, CA - Ended the purchase of bottled water for economic reasons in 2006.


Davis, CA - An October 2007 City Council decision banned the purchase or sale of single-use water bottles for city operations and events as part of a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


St. Louis, MO - In August of 2008 the City ended all purchases of bottled water and handed out free water bottles to 5,000 employees.


New York City – the City recently introduced a policy to end all bottled water purchases, and install standalone water filtration coolers.


On June 23, 2008, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution encouraging mayors to phase out the use of city funds to purchase bottled water and promote municipal water supplies.

Recent County Action

The following departments have already eliminated some of all of their bottled water purchases: Housing; Public Works ; Planning and Building Controller, Child Support Services and the Health System (including Environmental Health and the Medical Center).


In addition, initial education and outreach efforts have already begun:


As part of the Green Team outreach effort, the Deputy County Manager for Community Services purchased approximately 1100 BPA-free water bottles that have been distributed to Green Team members and to employees that participated in a water taste test at the Human Resources Green BBQ on August 21, 2008 (see number 2).


Three Departments (Child Support Services, the Controller, and Planning and Building) were given bottles as they have already ended the purchase of bottled water.



Members of the Green Team at the HR Green BBQ conducted a water taste test. 143 employees were asked to determine which sample, of three samples, was bottled water. 55% of employees (78) were not able to tell the difference between chilled bottled water (Crystal Springs) and tap water taken from 400 County Center. After the test, employees were encouraged to sign a pledge that stated they would eliminate their use of bottled water - employees were given one of the purchased water bottles as part of the pledge.


A second taste test conducted in conjunction with the April Green Bag lecture produced similar results.


The Director of Environmental Health does not recommend the installation of water filtration systems as part of this initiative, as the quality of the water available to County staff from municipal sources does not necessitate such systems. However, in the case staff wishes to alter the taste of the municipal source, the California Department of Public has a list of certified water treatment devices. These devices, if so desired by a Department, could be purchased and maintained by them.


As part of the education process, water testing in appropriate locations would be made available to those departments that wanted them using a contract between the Department of Public Works and Testing America, Inc. The department would be responsible for its costs.



The “Drink Hetch Hetchy” program is a countywide effort to promote the consumption of available tap water while phasing out the purchase of bottled water. It is an effort to continue the successful “greening” of the County, but also allows for some significant cost reductions in the elimination of bottled water purchases, and can help to protect the personal health of employees. This plan is part of the larger Green Budget effort that has been developed by the County Manager’s Office. These efforts will be included in and counted toward the County’s Climate Action Plan, as being developed by staff, which will detail methods to reduce the County’s carbon footprint. The key to the success of this program will be the ongoing education efforts. This program was presented to the Environmental Quality Committee of the Board of Supervisors on February 10th and was approved for review by the full Board.


The proposed ordinance expands the current prohibition of expenditures on 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. By including the prohibition of the County’s purchase of bottled water in the ordinance code, the Board can later easily expand this prohibition to apply to County contractors that are providing food service on County property.


The proposed ordinance has been approved by County Counsel.



Savings of approximately $146,000 per year would be reached by discontinuing the purchase of larger bottled water systems. Additionally, savings would be reached by discontinuing the purchase of smaller bottles of water. Departments would need to pay for the purchase of filtering systems, pitchers, and cups.


Departmental water testing costs approximately $500 per test.


The purchase of hot water taps and their installation, the purchase of filtering systems, and pitchers and cups for meetings would be the responsibility of Departments.

1 Sierra Club “Bottled Water; Learning the Facts and Taking Action”; Santa Clara Valley Water District “Bottled vs. Tap”; The Pacific Institute “Bottled Water and Energy, a Fact Sheet”; Container Recycling Institute