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Water bottle ban fails to address water quality


A challenge for underserved communities

By Earl “Skip” Cooper II | OW Guest contributor

The Los Angeles City Council is debating a proposal to ban water bottle retail sales at city agencies and large entertainment venues as a first step towards a city-wide bottle ban. For many Angelenos, a total ban on water bottles is a minor inconvenience. Our city’s low-income and minority communities, where long-term water quality challenges have created a distrust of tap water and reliance on bottled water, have a radically different view and much more at stake—losing access to safe drinking water.  A broad bottle ban would remove a critical resource for black and brown communities while doing nothing to address the underlying problems that require its use in the first place. 

Safe drinking water is a daily issue for many low-income communities throughout Los Angeles, more affluent communities like Beverly Hills and Westlake Village, and others have no such concern. Safe, clean tap water flowing from their faucets is a given, and a water bottle ban would have little impact on their lives.  The current city council progressives take for granted that everyone can afford an expensive $25+ water bottle if there is even somewhere in our neighborhood to refill it.

A recent UCLA study showed that South Los Angeles residents “lack fair options” when it comes to water quality issues. We turn on the faucet with trepidation, wondering whether the water coming out is safe for us to drink. And for good reason—the water conditions in South Los Angeles are having an extreme effect on people of color, and contain very high levels of “forever chemicals,” like PFAS. As the name implies, these chemicals don’t break down in the environment.

The poor water quality puts us at risk for serious health issues, such as cancer, liver, and kidney problems. The lack of response to community needs in Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey water crises, have exacerbated our concerns and fears—and the lack of communications from our own Department of Water and Power has led to a distrust of the tap water from our faucets. We have only one safe alternative -- clean and healthy bottled water. 

The drinking water challenges extend beyond our homes and into our local schools, with many in LA’s low-income neighborhoods testing for lead levels greater than federal limits—putting 

our children at significant risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that such exposure “results in substantial, population-level effects on children’s intellectual and academic abilities and problem behaviors.” 

We must have access to safe, affordable drinking water, and provide sensible recycling for the plastics for our children until policymakers resolve the underlying infrastructural issues causing water safety concerns. 

The unfortunate truth is that state and local policymakers have done little in the past few years to alleviate our water infrastructure problems or water quality issues. This despite California being the first state to declare that access to clean, safe, and affordable drinking water as a human right—a noble vision that has yet to become a reality for all Californians. Today, over 370 water systems fail to meet state standards—and more than two-thirds are in disadvantaged communities like mine. 

In Los Angeles, notable institutions, including UCLA’s Institute on Environment & Sustainability, have offered recommendations to address water system failures, but policymakers have been slow to respond.  A city-wide bottle ban is not a solution for ailing water infrastructure, nor is it an answer to water quality challenges. 

Earl ‘Skip’ Cooper, II is the founder of the Earl “Skip” Cooper Foundation, the motto of which is  “Serving Humanity.”