There was a big fuss in Calgary this week when Metro broke the story that Calgary is exploring options for its water services, including the possibility of privatization.

Calgary officials issued the usual swift denials and one maintained that “privatization was never discussed or on the table.” Well, that may be, but it’s a little late, isn’t it? Drinking water was, for all practical purposes, privatized a long time ago.

It’s called bottled water, and according to Statistics Canada, three in 10 Canadians drank bottled water in 2006. Somehow, at least a third of the population has bought the idea bottled water is better, safer, cleaner, etc. than tap water, no matter how often health officials pooh-pooh the idea.

This can get funny. Bottled water companies routinely sell customers their own tap water. For example, Dasani, which is owned by Coca-Cola, filters municipal tap water in Brampton and Calgary, and sells it back to you. Although it’s not obvious on the bottle, Dasani doesn’t try to hide it; check out the website: “To create Dasani, Coca-Cola bottlers start with the local water supply, which is then filtered for purity using a state-of-the-process called reverse osmosis.” Whatever. Tap water from source is probably healthier, if only because it is fluoridated, a main reason for cavity-free dentist visits. And in Canada, municipal water supplies are tested daily while bottled water plants are inspected every three years.

Here in Vancouver, we have one of the finest tap water supplies on the planet, but that hasn’t stopped people from buying bottled. Coun. Tim Stevenson wants to get drinking water back into the public domain, and has launched a one-man campaign to make it so. He tabled a motion last summer calling for bottled water to be banned in city facilities, which passed unanimously, and he expects city staff to come back with a report outlining feasibility of the idea to council on March 5.

There are issues, he realizes; bottled water is the No. 1 revenue item in Stanley Park, for example; and while water coming out of drinking fountains is clean, birds tend to view foun­tains as bird baths. “We’ll have to post signs tel­ling the birds to stay away,” he mused the other day. Now, if only we could teach a bunch of bird-brains to read.

But Stevenson is serious about de-privatizing water, as an estimated 10 million bottles end up in B.C. landfills each year. And no one can argue that pile away. I’m not sure trying to ban bottled water will work, but who knows? Stranger things have happened ... like the wholesale adoption of bottled water in the first place.

– Paul Sullivan is a Vancouver-based journalist and owner of Sullivan Media Consulting.

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