You are here

National Parks Being Lobbied To Do Away With Bottled Water, Install Filling Stations


A lobbying effort is under way to get more national parks to phase-out bottled water in favor of reusable water bottles and water-filling stations, such as this one at Arches National Park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

It's been more than a year since bottled water and corporate America collided at Grand Canyon National Park, and the push continues to get more national parks to phase out packaged water in favor of fresh tap water and refillable bottles.

Next week National Park Service officials at Yosemite and Mount Rainier national parks, Independence Hall National Historical Park, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area will be presented with over-sized postcards urging them to phase out disposable water bottles.

At Corporate Accountability International, a non-profit that works to encourage cleaner environmental habits, officials intend to make March 27 a "national day of action ... in a heated battle between those who are fighting to get billions of plastic bottles out of our waste stream, and Coca-Cola (owner of Dasani), who is throwing hurdles in the way of those parks that want to become bottled water free."

Coca-Cola rose to the limelight back in November 2011 when an email trail seemed to indicate the beverage maker was pressuring the National Park Foundation to urge the Park Service not to ban disposable water bottles at Grand Canyon National Park. At the time, Park Service officials said they weren't bowing to corporate pressure but simply conducting due diligence on the impacts of such a ban. For instance, they said at the time, how might the safety of visitors to Southwestern parks such as the Grand Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands be impacted by a ban?

Ultimately, Grand Canyon officials, who had installed water filling stations early in 2011, were able to phase-out bottled water and put to use filling stations they had installed

Kristin Urquiza, who oversees the "Outside the Bottle and Public Works Compaign" for Corporate Accountability International, says more parks need to follow Zion, Hawaii Volcanoes, and Grand Canyon national parks in phasing out the sale of disposable water bottles.

At the same time, she was critical of an extensive memorandum (attached below) Park Service Director Jon Jarvis sent out to his superintendents in the wake of the Grand Canyon uproar that directed the steps they would need to take to phase-out bottled water. That memo called for superintendents to, among other things, review the amount of waste that could be eliminated from their park; consider the costs of installing and maintaining water filling stations for visitors; review the resulting impact on concessionaire and cooperative association revenues, and; consult with the Park Service's Public Health Office.

Then, too, they must consider "contractual implications" to concessionaires, the cost and availability of BPA-free reusable containers, and signage so visitors can find water filling stations. Also, they need to take into consideration safety considerations for visitors who might resort to drinking water "from surface water sources with potential exposure to disease" or who neglect to carry enough water with them on hikes.

"That is a clear indication of how Coke, stepping in, really is putting pressure on the Park Service to make it much more difficult for additional parks to follow suit," maintained Ms. Urquiza during a phone conservation. "Coke and the other bottlers, Nestle and Pepsi, there were several conference calls that were organized with Park Service employees and representatives from the big bottlers, asking them to put a hiatus on additional bans, and really working to stop this from happening in additional places."

To get more parks to phase-out bottled water, the non-profit has been working with stakeholders in and out of national parks, including concessionaires, "to help give Park Service (superintendents) the support they need to really move forward on implementing a 'bottled-water-free' policy in their parks," she said.

While none of the four parks has given "firm commitments" to moving forward with a ban, said Ms. Urquiza, talks have been ongoing to examine the feasibility of such a ban.

"The real exciting feedback that we've been getting is that water in the parks is an incredibly important issue for superintendents," she said. "They want to figure out how to minimize the amount of waste, to promote public water."

The organization plans to organize efforts this fall in Washington, D.C., to lobby the Park Service to hold firm to its original plan of having refillable water stations in 75 percent of park visitor centers by 2016, while encouraging parks to discontinue the sale of disposable bottled water.

On March 27, next Wednesday, the non-profit hopes superintendents at Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Independence Hall, and Golden Gate will commit to moving forward with a ban of disposable water bottles. "Our hope is that the superintendents can make a public commitment to implementing bottled-water-free policies," Ms. Urquiza said. "We're really hopeful, and see this as a win-win for parks.

"... At the end of the day, it's really sending the wrong message for our national parks to be promoting bottled water," she added.

At least one reusable bottlemaker, Vapur, has been talking with national parks about installing water-filling stations for visitors. Company officials, however, have declined to discuss what progress they're making.


The NPS with this policy limits the choices of it's patrons. It's not in their mission to do that.

There are plenty of things I can't buy in a national park--absinthe, Nabokov novels, bows & arrows--but it's hard to argue NPS is violating its mission by limiting the choices of what I can buy. (Isn't its mission "to protect and manage our nation's special wild places"?) In fact, unless the choices are unlimited, wouldn't anything the NPS offers to sell a limit on those choices?

To say this is a nanny issue is to presume that one is somehow entitled to buy whatever one wants at a national park.

While they are at it, I hope these same lobbyists can convince the NPS to ban the in-park sale of tobacco products as well.

Thank God the NPS is responding to the plastic water bottle threat. And for those scofflaws who would flout the ban, the Yellowstone Justice Center, the Yosemite magistrate judge, and all of those armed NPS rangers, everywhere from Acadia National Park to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, will be stern and unforgiving. Swift prosecution and harsh punishment—that's what's needed.

But that's not enough to keep the parks in a pristine condition. Fortunately:

a 14-year-old lawsuit could soon force sweeping changes and eliminate popular activities in one of America's most beloved national parks.

In the name of restoring the park's natural setting, a new proposal by the National Park Service would ban bicycle and horse rentals in Yosemite Valley and remove the ice rink at Curry Village. Swimming pools at the Yosemite Lodge and Ahwahnee Hotel would be torn out. Rafting rentals on the Merced River would end. The longest stone bridge in Yosemite Valley would be demolished. Even the Yosemite Art Activity Center, where families learn water colors, would go.

With luck, even more can be done to return Yosemite to its status circa 1000 B.C.:

"Yosemite Valley is absolutely magnificent. You ought to be able to look around and enjoy it," said John Brady, chairman of Mariposans for the Environment and Responsible Government, an environmental group.

"You don't need a bunch of swimming pools there. You can ice-skate in lots of places. You don't have to do it in Yosemite Valley."

Brady, a retired Army officer, said he would support the park going even further, such as tearing down Yosemite Lodge, which is not part of the proposed plan.



And yes, no tobacco! No sodas! No foie gras in NPS restaurants! Recycled paper only. No bags, paper, plastic, or otherwise. No tawdry commerce, so no gift shops (and no Indian traders selling rugs)! Definitely no sunscreen; it stinks and the Anasazi didn't have any. Toyota Priuses, Nissan Leafs, and Chevrolet Volts only! Let's start a list of other objectionable things to be banned.

..and while they're at it they need to institute that new re-usable toilet paper I've been reading about......

Imtnbike. When are you going to realize that the government bureaucrats know what is best for you and how you should live your life. Personal choice and personal responsibility are so passe.

I've heard this "limits choice" and "nanny" argument in all the materials the bottled water industry has put out on this subject.

Both are a bit confounding. Mike, by your rationale the parks are "limiting choice" because they are not providing everything a park-goer could concievably desire at their concessions.

And the park's mission IS very much at odds with selling a product that is so environmentally damaging, expensive to dispose of, and at odds with protecting our shared water resources. Here's the mission for reference:

As for this tired "nanny" argument. Its intriguing to me that here you have a transnational corporation telling an institution that is suppose to serve the public first and foremost that this is the way this institution should operate, and yet the park-goers who don't want to see parks serve as a concession stand and billboard for this private interest are the "nannies?" Please.

To some additional points, Mike. The GAO finds that bottled water is far less regulated than the tap. Recent contamination scares further illustrate the point. Bottled water is different than reusables. The environmental footprint is greater and reusables don't litter parks by the tons, causing parks to spend significant taxpayer dollars to recycle or dispose of them.

As for accessibility of water, 14 parks, many of them in desert climates, have proven they can provide water sufficient to make sure park goers are properly hydrated. And why buy bottled water at a concession stand when you can just refill a bottle at a fountain? It weighs just as much, travels just as far...what's feel good about purchasing the bottled stuff?

Also, concessionaries that have gone bottled water free have found that sales of reusable bottles easily compensate for any losses in selling a product that is quite often just tap water sold back to us in a soft plastic bottle at more than a thousand times the cost.

Here, here!

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide