Wednesday February 20, 2008
I’m looking forward to the reinstallation of the old horse-water trough in the Capitol’s first floor, if the latest cockamamie idea floats to the top of the Sargasso Sea called the General Assembly.
In fact, in 14 years covering state government, I can’t think of too many things that have the potential to be a bigger waste of time, than the idea floated this morning to eliminate the water coolers in the Capitol complex and install seven water fountains.
The designation of the state tartan pattern is right up there in Cockamamieville. The ill-fated proposal to designate Windsor Loamy Sand as the state soil, is another.
But it’s symptomatic of the Legislature. You can’t make the schools better and our kids competitive, so you might as well eliminate the water coolers in the Capitol and Legislative Office Building and call it a money-saving and environmentally conscious effort.
One of the many bad things about this public-relations idea is that it comes from Rep. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, whose dramatic, progressive testimony to the Judiciary Committee last year on gay rights won me over.
But this latest idea seems like election-year pandering, especially when kids from Farmington and West Hartford were brought in as props for the news conference this morning.
Then there’re the phony facts. Yes, we have good drinking water. But her charges of exorbitant expense and environmental impact are half baked, or at least overblown.
“Connecticut enjoys some of the best tap water in the United States,” she said. “Strong environmental laws and regulations protect our watershed and makes drinking water safe and accessible, yet each day when legislators or folks who work in the building want a drink of water, they use Poland Spring water coolers and others go down to the cafeteria and purchase a bottle of water and the cost of that purchase is actually double the price of a gallon of gasoline.”
She said that in the Legislative Office Building, bottled water costs $11,600 a year “when we have good tap water piped in,” while it costs $460,000 a year in all state office buildings. “This seems silly,” she said. “We have such good water to be trucking it in from far away.”
Then she segued into those ubiquitous plastic water bottles “1,000 years to decompose.” She noted that last year, 340 million water bottles were incinerated or ended up in landfills in the state. That’s fine and dandy, but the state’s deposit-bottle law has absolutely nothing to do with the proposal to eliminate water jugs.
(In the spirit of full disclosure, up here in the Capitol press room, which is accessible only by walking up a flight of stairs, there is a water cooler with a five-gallon jug of Poland Spring)
In Bye’s vision, the new water fountains would have spigots, so reusable cups, like the one on my cluttered desk here, could be used.
Since it WAS a news conference and there WERE TV cameras, Attorney General Dick Blumenthal joined the scrum of lawmakers including Rep. Dick Roy, D-Milford, co-chairman of the Environment Committee.
“We ought to be using tap water,” Blumenthal pronounced. “We should do more things around here without legislating,” Roy said. “I don’t know why people don’t complain when they spend more for water than they do gasoline.”
Let’s not let the facts get in the way of our attitudes, I always say. So I called Brian Flaherty, director of public affairs for Nestle Waters of North America, Inc., which owns Poland Spring.
Flaherty, who is a former Republican member of the state House, knows the name of the game, so he wouldn’t impugn Bye’s motives. He did say, however, that those 5-gallon jugs get refilled up to 35 times before they are recycled and cost between $4 and $4.50 each. So that’s less than a dollar a gallon. Uh….what’s gasoline going for these days? Is someone having a gas sale we should know about? Flaherty said that the average cost at the supermarket, for all sizes of water, is about $1.61 a gallon.
Before I went to Bye’s news conference I called Eric Connery, facilities administrator for the Office of Legislative Management, which runs the Capitol complex. He said the contract with Poland Spring is in the first year of a three-year, $32,000-a-year deal, which does not have a cancellation clause.
Don’t you hate it when the truth gets in the way of political agendas? _________________________________________________________________