Elizabeth Royte writes about the chain of life. In 2005, she published a book, Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash, that followed the waste out of her Brooklyn home. Her most recent book examines a product brought in to millions of residences and offices: bottled water.
Americans consume 50 billion single-serve bottles of water a year. In
I wrote about KC's water because I wanted to compare it with New York
City's water, which is famously tasty and comes from a fairly well
protected watershed. Kansas City starts with water from a much dirtier
source -- the Missouri River -- cleans it up, and also wins taste
You seem to come away impressed with efforts the city makes the Missouri River drinkable.
I am impressed, and I think water managers (almost) everywhere deserve
major credit for making surface and groundwater clean, healthful and
Ethanol gets criticized for being an inefficient alternative to gasoline. And as you write, it's also making our water dirtier.
Ethanol from corn is an environmental disaster: The corn needs to be
irrigated -- that's not sustainable in places where the water table is
dropping -- and it needs fertilizer and herbicide inputs that run off
into waterways, causing headaches for downstream water treatment plants
that have to remove excess nitrogen and atrazine. Farm runoff is also
contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The ethanol plants
filter their water before use, and they discharge their brine into
nearby waterways. It's not a problem for major rivers but plants that
discharge into small creeks have harmed aquatic life.
Bottled water has come under a lot of criticism because of the
energy required to make a container and transport it somewhere. Your
book is interesting because of its focus on the community impact. What
led you to Fryeburg?
I went to Fryeburg because I knew that
Poland Spring is the No. 1 spring water brand in New York, where I
live. You can't walk a block, here, without seeing an empty. I also
knew that some of the townspeople in Fryeburg, where Poland Spring is
sourced, weren't happy with the water withdrawals, the increased truck
traffic, and the way the parent company (Nestlé Waters) was treating
Did your personal hydration habits change over the course of working on the book?
Not in the least: I was always a committed tap drinker. Though I did
become more careful about changing my Brita filter on time. I use a
pour-through filter only to remove the chlorine smell faster.