The Associated Press March 23, 2011, 10:41AM ET

Vermont kicks the bottle -- water, that is

Calling the purchasing of bottled water a waste of taxpayer money, the state of Vermont will join other states in phasing out its use in state buildings, in favor of tap water, officials said Tuesday.

State government, which spent about $213,000 last year buying bottled water, considers the purchases a luxury that flies in the face of the millions of dollars invested in public water infrastructure to make clean, drinkable water available to everyone, said Deb Markowitz, secretary of the state Agency of Natural Resources.

She also cited the environmental impact, saying toxic chemicals go into the manufacture of plastic water bottles, greenhouse gases are emitted by delivery trucks and ecologically-sensitive stream headwaters areas are damaged in the process of bottling.

"We're going to be rolling out a new policy over the spring and summer to remove bottled water from our public buildings, except in those cases where it's necessary to make sure there's clean, drinkable water for our employees," Markowitz said." And there are some situations where the water isn't good to drink or there isn't a tap at the ready."

Vermont won't be the first state to kick the bottle in the recession-pinched economy. New York, Colorado and Illinois have taken similar steps, according to John Stewart, an organizer for Corporate Accountability International, a Boston-based non-profit whose "Think Outside the Bottle" campaign lobbies state officials on the issue.

Vermont's decision was announced Tuesday, which was World Water Day, established by the United Nations to focus attention on the importance of fresh water.

"At a time when we've seen 700 state positions cut and vital programs and services are being cut back, we just can't justify having bottled water at state work sites," said Conor Casey, legislative liaison for the Vermont State Employees Association, a union that represents about 7,000 state workers.

"It's a luxury a lot of our members enjoy, but I think that as we've done in the past, we're trying to put public services first here. It makes more sense to invest in public infrastructure for water," Casey said.

Calls for comment to Crystal Rock Holdings, of Watertown, Conn., which markets Crystal Rock and Pure Vermont bottled waters, were not returned Tuesday.

Not everyone in state government will be going cold turkey on bottled water, though. The Statehouse cafeteria that serves lawmakers and others, for example: Run by a private vendor, it makes handsome profits off the $1.25 and $1.50 bottles of Dasani and Vermont Pure.

"We have to make our revenues in the legislative session," said Scott Choiniere, vice president of operations for The Abbey Group, based in Sheldon. "That's a big source of revenue for us. Realistically, no, we couldn't just eliminate it. I know there's a group that wants us to."


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