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When the Patriots Path Council called to invite Back2Tap to their Jamboree celebrating 100 years of Boy Scouts, I didn’t really know what to expect. Preparing for the “jambo,” I began to wonder whether any boys would visit a table presenting the evils of bottled water when they could be spear throwing, mountain boarding, bullwhip cracking, or watching an army tank run over a car.

In spite of having about 175 cool activities to choose from, a couple hundred of the 4300 scouts and leaders did find time to spend at the Back2Tap table this past Saturday. Every single boy and leader listened intently, asked questions, and seemed genuinely excited about our campaign for getting back to drinking tap water and using reusable bottles. This was definitely the best crowd I’ve ever worked with as an exhibitor. I also learned a lot – from the challenges of having private well water to the best type of carabiner.

Interestingly, even these outdoorsy community-minded folks who had reusable bottles clipped to their belts weren’t familiar with the astounding facts about bottled water waste. Many of them told us that if people knew about the:

• 140 million disposable bottles going to landfills everyday,
• 700 years it takes for plastic to decompose,
• 4 ounces of oil it takes to make each disposable bottle,
• 1000 times greater cost of bottled water, and
• more stringent regulatory oversight of tap water compared to bottled water,

jambo 005

they would be persuaded to drink tap water from reusable bottles instead of bottled water. Most people just don’t know about the hidden costs of their consumer choices. To illustrate these impacts, we had a sequencing activity where scouts put the 18 steps in the Life Cycle of a Disposable Plastic Water Bottle in order (see photo). Impacts on the environment were obvious at many steps in the Life Cycle. Before leaving, they were also able to take our Bottled Water IQ Test to see how much they had learned.

Obviously, there is a lot more work to do getting these facts and concepts out to people. Most of the scouts and scout leaders left our exhibit table eager to spread the Back2Tap message with the rest of their troop and with their communities. This is exactly the type of help the Back2Tap movement needs because it is not a message that large multi-national corporations with large advertising budgets is going to sponsor. It will take community leaders like scouts, teachers, PTO members, municipal volunteers, and green activists spreading the word, community by community. To find out how to help foster the Back2Tap movement, visit our community page.

Congratulations to the Patriots Path Council and the participating scout troops for organizing such an exciting and inspiring event. It was an honor to meet and talk with so many of you – thank you for sharing your opinions and suggestions with Back2Tap.

The New York Times series “Toxic Waters” written by Charles Duhigg presents a disturbing view of our drinking water quality in the USA.  The first article about herbicides (atrazine in particular) points out that it is time to strengthen some of the federal drinking water standards in light of new research.  You can read more about it in my earlier Earthsense blog entitled “Don’t give up on tap water.”  The second article in this series is about industrial waste, particularly in the coal-mining region of West Virginia.   Basically, Duhigg says the 1972 Clean Water Act was largely successful at stopping the rampant pollution of our rivers, lakes, and streams, but over the last 10 years it has not been well enforced by the EPA or states.  Consequently, our water quality is going downhill again.  His third article is about agricultural runoff which is a type of non-point source pollution (it doesn’t come out of a pipe).  Most of this runoff is not regulated by the Federal government, and it is not well regulated by local governments.  Disposing of huge quantities of manure by spraying it on nearby fields has led to bacteria and parasites in local water bodies and drinking water wells in heavily agricultural areas.

Before you panic and revert to bottled water, you might want to follow the advice of the New York Times on-line article “How safe is your tap water?”  First visit the EPA drinking water quality reports that are available on-line to check out the quality of water in your town.  Then, find out the names of the polluters that are located near you, by visiting the interactive database of water pollution records for the United States that was amassed by The New York Times.  If you are one of the small percentage of people who have impaired drinking water from your private well or your public water system, your next best step would be to use some sort water filtration at home while you lobby your legislators for cleaner water.  Don’t assume that bottled water is any safer, by the way.  It is regulated by the FDA, an even more poorly funded and staffed governmental agency.

There is a positive side to the story.   The EPA reports that 92% of the population served by community water systems had no reported health-based violations.   There’s also hope that investigative articles like these will pressure the EPA and states to improve enforcement of the Clean Water Act laws that were wisely enacted to protect us all those years ago.  Finally, Lisa Jackson, the new head of EPA has acknowledged these problems and says she will address them.   The more people who raise these issues with regulators and politicians, the better chance we have of achieving meaningful improvements so that everybody in the United States will be able to drink their tap water and enjoy recreation in our water bodies without fear of getting sick.

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