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National Parks Ask Bottled Water Industry to Take a Hike

By Kristin Urquiza

We’re on the verge of the next wave of National Parks going bottled water-free.

Today, a broad coalition led by Corporate Accountability International is providing the grassroots support for four major national parks to take this step: Mt. Rainier, Yosemite, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Independence National Historical Park. Park goers will deliver more than 40,000 petition signatures to park officials today in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Seattle.

National Parks are a treasure of happy memories and experiences for so many people. That’s why it is so critical to preserve our parks for future generations. Corporate Accountability International recently asked its members about their favorite national parks and memories there. Martha B., a Corporate Accountability International Member from Arizona, met her husband at a National Park and later they got married in the picnic area!  However, no one had any good memories about litter or corporate advertising in the parks, which is a good reason, on its own, for parks to end the sale of bottled water. But that’s not all.

Bottled water is a costly product that is anything but green. Why drain clean water from one source, package it in plastic, ship it using fossil fuels, and then charge park goers for the product when clean water is already available from the tap? Bottled water simply does not make economic or environmental sense.

Then, why are the parks filled with bottled water? It’s no accident. For decades, Coke and the bottled water industry have used our national treasures to profit at the public’s expense. The parks are clearly a profit center for Coke. About 300 million people visit National Parks every year, and Coke is cornering that market. Between 2007 and 2012, Coke entered into an exclusive agreement with the National Parks Service and National Park Foundation to use park logos in their marketing. All other beverage corporations were excluded from using park logos according to the agreement.

In spite of the ubiquitous industry presence, individual parks have, to their credit, tackled the problem of bottled water head on. But Coke is not just standing by while park officials take steps to buck the bottle. Coke executives are actively blocking parks from going bottled water-free.

In December 2010, Grand Canyon’s Superintendent Steve Martin retired from the Park Service after 35 years. He was a staunch advocate for making the Grand Canyon bottled water-free. Two weeks before his carefully studied policy was implemented, he got word the program was “tabled.” In November 2011, he was interviewed by the New York Times:

Stephen P. Martin, the architect of the plan and the top parks official at the Grand Canyon, said his supervisors told him two weeks before its Jan. 1 start date that Coca-Cola, which distributes water under the Dasani brand, had registered its concerns about the bottle ban through the foundation, and that the project was being tabled. His account was confirmed by park, foundation and company officials.

Parks officials have persisted, however, thanks to a groundswell of grassroots support for their principled stands. Now 14 parks, including Grand Canyon, Zion and Saguaro National Park are bottled water-free.

John Wessels, the Intermountain Regional Director, recently stated in an official National Parks Service press release that, "[o]ur parks should set the standard for resource protection and sustainability, Grand Canyon National Park has provided an excellent analysis of the impacts the elimination of bottled water would have, and has developed a well-thought-out plan for ensuring that the safety, needs and comfort of visitors continue to be met in the park. I feel confident that the impacts to park concessioners and partners have been given fair consideration and that this plan can be implemented with minimal impacts to the visiting public."

The Intermountain Region is the largest geographic region within the Park Service and includes iconic parks such as Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.

Tens of thousands of park-goers across the country are supporting the National Parks Service in continuing down this brave path which pushes back against Coke’s profiteering. And park officials have been receptive to the public outcry, seriously considering the steps they need to take to buck the bottle. These high-profile parks can help set the standard for the remaining 380 units in the system to follow.

It won’t be easy. We know Coke will throw up roadblocks to progress, as it has in the past. But it’s worth it to protect our precious National Parks. National Parks are not a concession stand. National Parks are not a billboard. It’s time for our National Parks to go bottled-water free.

[image credit: Fellowship of the Rich: Flickr cc]

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