Joseph Schell/Special to the S.F. ExaminerHydrated: Michelle Gallemore

Joseph Schell/Special to the S.F. ExaminerHydrated: Michelle Gallemore

Colleges tapping into sustainable sipping

Michelle Gallemore is passionate about water — especially San Francisco tap water.

“We have such great water here!” the San Francisco State University senior enthused as she filled her plastic canteen with water from a spigot in the Cesar Chavez Student Center, one of just three such taps on campus.

Gallemore is leading SFSU’s version of a campus campaign called Take Back the Tap, which aims to get students drinking more such water — and less of the bottled stuff, which Gallemore says is bad for the environment and costs thousands of times more than tap water.

“If we keep allowing companies to control our water, one day I’ll turn on the tap and it won’t be there,” she said.

Audrey Wood, a freshman at the University of San Francisco, is in charge of Take Back the Tap on her campus.

“I really hope that after a few more semesters people will be comfortable with tap water,” she said. “But my goal is to eventually eliminate bottled water on campus.”

Wood’s and Gallemore’s campaigns might seem small-scale, but they have the bottled water industry scared. The International Bottled Water Association recently began publicizing an online video that accuses college campaigns such as Take Back the Tap of threatening freedom of choice.

The trade group, which asserts that bottled water is merely a healthy alternative to soda, accused students who advocate banning it of being the pawns of environmentalist groups.

“What we are seeing is well-known anti-bottled water groups are recruiting college students to spread misinformation about bottled water on college campuses,” said spokesman Chris Hogan in a press release.

Adam Scow, the California campaigns director for the national environmentalist group Food and Water Watch, admitted to recruiting college students. But he denied that the dozens of students the group has tapped to run Take Back the Tap campaigns on campuses nationwide were spreading misinformation.

“Consumers are becoming more and more aware that bottled water is a scam,” he said. “We don’t want people to waste their money on an inferior product.”

But while many cash-strapped college students might prefer not to spend money on bottled water, Gallemore and Wood have run up against an unforeseen challenge: it can be hard to find tap water on campus.

At SFSU, Gallemore is working with the university to identify drinking fountains that could be retrofitted with filling stations for students’ reusable bottles. Today, there are only three. Davin Wentworth-Thrasher, the campus sustainability operations coordinator, said he hoped to have two or three more installed by March.

“A lot of people already bring a canteen,” Gallemore said. “What they want is for it to be more convenient to use on campus. They don’t want to be jury-rigging it under a sink.”

Vast industry

2009 consumption of bottled water in the United States:

8.45B Gallons of bottled water sold

$10.6B Spent on bottled water

27.6 Gallons of bottled water consumed per capita

Source: Beverage Marketing Corporation

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