The National Park Service (NPS) will be required to provide a report justifying a ban on bottled water at 19 parks around the country, under a provision included in the massive 1.8 trillion year-end fiscal deal in Congress.
The language, included in the conference committee’s report on the appropriations bill, falls short of the bottled water industry's push for an end to the ban. Business groups have been at war with the agency since it gave parks permission in 2011 to stop selling bottled water in an attempt to cut down on waste.
A total of 19 parks have opted to ban the sale of bottled water and build hydration stations and water fountains instead.
Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.), whose young daughter has a health condition that puts her at greater risk for dehydration, was behind attempts to include a rider that prohibits national parks from banning bottled water.
His rider didn't make it into the spending deal, but in a statement he said the fight isn't over.
“We’ve preserved the issue,” he said. “If the park service cannot provide the justification for a policy that seems to have no real benefit and is an inconvenience for families, we’ll be back.”
Rothfus has said that families should have the option to purchase healthy beverages for their kids while visiting national parks and that he believes there is no net benefit if families are still purchasing bottled beverages elsewhere.
In a statement Thursday, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) commended Congress for requiring NPS to provide facts for how it justified banning the sale of bottled water.
“In addition to being the healthiest package beverage consumers can choose, bottled water has the smallest environmental footprint of any package beverage,” the group said. “IBWA is confident a report detailing the data individual national parks used to ban the sale of bottled water will lead to the conclusion that such bans provide no benefit to park visitors.”
However, Corporate Accountability International, a corporate watchdog group, said thousands of people and dozens of members of Congress support the NPS in going bottled-water-free.
“It’s high time the industry stopped manipulating our democratic institutions, and instead stepped aside as our leaders support public water access for all,” the group’s Deputy Campaigns Director John Stewart said in a statement.
On Wednesday, 34 House Democrats sent a letter to NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis, voicing their support for the adoption of bottled-water-free policies.
“On the eve of the centennial and in like with the park’s commitment to reduce solid waste pollution, we believe this is a sound, sensible policy that should be implemented widely across the National Park Service,” their letter said. “This policy can be a beacon of sustainability that educates millions of park-goers about the importance of reducing their carbon footprint and preserving our public water supplies.”
The NPS refused to comment, directing all questions related to the spending bill to the White House Office of Management and Budget.