Congress’s $860,000 tab on bottled water targeted as wasteful spending

Lawmakers in the House spent more than $860,000 on bottled water last year, according to an advocacy group that is pushing members of Congress and the Obama administration to kick their penchant for the product.

A study by Corporate Accountability International found that the largest purchaser was the office of House Information Resources, which spent $12,935. The House Appropriations Committee was close behind, at $12,537, while the clerk of the House spent $11,049 on bottled water.

Under former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) “Green the Capitol” initiative, the House started selling recycled bottled water by Naturally Iowa in the House cafeterias in 2008.

ADVERTISEMENT
While Pelosi was Speaker, her office spent $8,786 on bottled water, according to the report. Then-Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office spent $3,354 on bottled water.

Pelosi's leadership office said it made the switch from using bottled water to using a filtration system more than a year ago.

The amounts generally reflect the sizes of the various offices. House Appropriations has traditionally had a large staff, and the Speaker’s office is larger than the House minority leader’s.

Republicans led a successful vote earlier this year to cut office budgets in the chamber by 5 percent, and the campaign director for Corporate Accountablity said lawmakers who were looking for ways to trim their budgets could cut their bottled-water expenses.

“The marketing of the bottled-water industry has been so successful that it’s taught us that the only safe place to get water is from a bottle, but there are some great alternatives,” said Kristin Urquiza, campaign director for Corporate Accountability International’s “Think Outside the Bottle” campaign.

The group wants offices to use tap water or water treatment systems, which, it says, cost less and reduce the amount of packaging produced by bottled water. The group’s report found that Nestlé is the largest supplier of the bottled water on Capitol Hill, with its popular Deer Park brand.

Brian Flaherty, the vice president for government affairs at Nestlé water, said that buying less bottled water was not the answer to improving the quality of tap water or reducing the amount of waste produced by the bottles.

“Turning away from bottled water does not improve water conservation practices, does not ensure adequate funding for public drinking water systems, and does not increase recycling rates,” said Flaherty in a letter to members on Monday. “Instead, bans remove one of the most healthful beverage choices.”

Flaherty said Nestle was interested in continuing to work with lawmakers to improve transparency and regulations in the bottled-water industry.  

Corporate Accountability International had an initial meeting with the White House’s Council on Environmental Equality last year to talk about cutting the amount of money it spends on bottled water. But Urquiza said they have not held any subsequent discussions.

“Unfortunately, they haven’t committed to phasing out bottled water expenses and we haven’t been able to get numbers on what the White House spends on bottled water per year, but that’s exactly the direction that we’d like this campaign to go,” she said.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) was at the group’s press conference on Tuesday, heralding the call to put a cap on bottled water in the House.

A spokeswoman for Norton said her office stopped buying bottled water nearly two years ago. But according to last year’s statement of disbursements from July to September 2010, Norton’s office spent $94 on Deer Park water. And for the period of the group’s study, she spent $1,358.14.

Her office did not reply to a question about that expense.

The anti-bottled-water group tallied the expenditures of all 435 members in the lower chamber between April 2009 and March 2010.

This post was updated Feb. 9 at 1:07 p.m.