Last month I got up early and drove into the heart of the Great Swamp watershed, near George Washington’s historic Jockey Hollow encampment in New Jersey to give a breakfast talk to the Great Swamp Watershed Association. I enjoyed doing this because it reminds me why I am working so hard to spread the Back2Tap message. For me, the Back2Tap movement is not only about reducing the waste associated with bottled water– it is also about reconnecting people with the land around them, their watershed.

What does bottled water have to do with the health of your watershed? Everything! If you drink bottled water, then you don’t have to give thought to the quality of your tap water, and then you won’t necessarily care about where it comes from – your watershed. People who rely on tap water are interested in knowing about its source and about how to protect it for the sake of their health and their pocketbooks.

So drinking tap water connects you to your watershed in a very personal way. Watershed stewardship becomes a cause you need to support. This could entail supporting preservation of open space, limiting the application of fertilizer and pesticides that run off into local water bodies, stabilizing slopes so that erosion doesn’t wash silt into water bodies, and supporting your local watershed association.

Conversely, bottled water disconnects you from your local environment. Extracting large quantities of water from remote watersheds to meet the bottled water demand around the United States is a recipe for local disasters. Spring water, usually from small rural locales, is often extracted at unsustainable rates. This lowers water levels in nearby wells and water bodies. Not to mention the nuisance of having water tanker trucks rumble through these small towns 24-7. Make no mistake, collecting and bottling water in one watershed and transporting it to another is hugely wasteful and inefficient compared to filling up at the tap.

Many people ask me “what exit?” when they find out I am from New Jersey. I am lucky to live in Chatham at the edge of the Great Swamp, just 25 miles west of Manhattan. Supplying drinking water for over 2 million people, this watershed is over 55 square miles and includes parts of ten towns. Way back, swamps like this one were viewed as wasted space so they were often utilized as dump sites for municipal and industrial waste. In 1960 the Port Authority of NY and NJ proposed filling it in and making it into the fourth regional airport in the New York metropolitan area. Luckily, people spoke up to save the swamp and the surrounding towns from this devastation. Over 7500 acres have been preserved, mostly in a Federal Wildlife Refuge where over 1000 species (26 endangered) are protected. The Great Swamp Watershed Association works to preserve more land and to raise awareness about the importance of caring for this valuable natural habitat and drinking water source.

Needless to say, I came away from my breakfast meeting at the Great Swamp Watershed Association reminded of the real value our Back2Tap movement offers – raising awareness about our drinking water choices and how that choice affects the health of our watershed, other people’s watersheds and indeed our entire planet.