Never mind the bottles: It’s the tap water. You can forget whatever you’ve heard about the coming water wars — the water marketing wars are already here.
The Minneapolis City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee decided Tuesday it’s ready to spend $180,000 on a campaign to promote the city’s tap water. Council Members Scott Benson and Betsy Glidden asked a few questions (recognizing their constituents would “wonder what in the world we’re spending $180,000 on”) before joining the rest in recommending the city seek proposals from outside firms for a tap-water marketing campaign.
Last fall the International Bottled Water Association took out full-page newspaper ads in cities like New York and San Francisco (sorry, Strib) in response to a U.S. Conference of Mayors resolution to promote municipal water and highlight the envrionmental and other costs of bottled water. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak helped lead the mayors’ effort.
The bottled-water/tap-water debate can spill into issues beyond mere thirst-quenching. What do you think people drink when a water main breaks, the IBWA asks, as seems to happen somewhere almost every day? The water works industry replies that those water mains not only bring water to taps but also to fire hydrants. And so on.
Now the City of Lakes is joining the fray, taking the water marketing battle to neighboring suburbs that haven’t signed on to buy water from the new Minneapolis ultrafiltration plant. The target markets: Robbinsdale, Brooklyn Center, Richfield, the nine-tenths of Bloomington residents who don’t yet have Minneapolis water coursing through their pipes, and everywhere in Edina besides the enlightened Morningside neighborhood. Council President Barb Johnson mentioned the prospect of marketing the city’s water to suburbs beyond the inner ring.
It’s a scheme to make use of the city’s current excess capacity of mmm-mmm-good drinking water. (Now with 44 percent less fish taste!) When a second plant comes on line in three years, Minneapolis will be the largest city in the country to have all its water processed by ultrafiltration, a process the city claims can filter out particles as small as a virus. That will raise the stakes for water bottlers, some of whom are selling nothing-special city water — a product as transparent as the emperor’s new clothes wrapped in a thin layer of marketing-adorned plastic.