Bottled water the next Detroit classic?
Department could compete with Evian
James G. Hill
Detroit Free Press
In the beginning, Detroiters had Faygo, Better Made,
Stroh's and Vernor's. And they were good. Now Detroit
plans on getting into the bottled water business.
"We pride ourselves on the quality of the water we have
now, and this would just be an enhancement of that pride,"
said James Heath, director of water operations for the
city's Water and Sewerage Department."Besides the pride
issue, whatever monies we might get from the business
we could use to benefit our customers by reducing other
charges that go along with delivering water," Heath said
Meantime, water bills will be rising. The Detroit City
Council is to hold a public hearing on proposed rate increases
at 10 a.m. today in the 13th Floor auditorium of the Coleman
A. Young Municipal Center.
The new rates, which would go into effect July 1 and
be reflected in consumers' August bills, need City Council
approval to go into effect. Typically, the council OKs
such increases. The proposal would average 13.5 percent
more for Detroit residents, and 15.2 percent for suburban
The Detroit Water and Sewerage system, one of the biggest
in the country, supplies water to 125 communities in southeast
Michigan, including Detroit, from as far north as Flint
and as far south as Monroe.
The bottled water would be initially marketed locally,
then statewide, and potentially nationally and internationally,
"Who knows? We haven't gotten that far in the planning
stage yet," Heath said.
But some Detroiters are buying into the idea already.
"Me and my mother always used to joke and say Michigan
water taste like cherry wine," said Inez Milford, 68,
of the west side. "I think it's a real good idea, especially
if the city can make money off of it and quit taking all
my money" through her water bill.
"I think it would be pretty cool to be able to go into
a restaurant or a grocery store and say 'Give me a bottle
of Detroit's finest,' " said William Lassiter, 34, of
the east side.
The $300-million Water Works II plant on Jefferson Avenue,
which is expected to open next year, will provide the
water. An outside company would bottle the product.
The bottling idea was floated about six years ago when
then-department director Stephen Gordon was formulating
the master plan for the Water Works II plant.
An advantage for consumers is that the water would have
to meet state and federal purity standards, which are
not required for other bottled water products. Unlike
the city's water department, the bottled water industry
is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency
or the Water Quality Control Division of the state. Heath
said that ozonation, a process to treat water, will be
used to lessen the need for excessive chlorination, making
the water better for consumers and the environment. Ozonation
is an electrical procedure that uses oxygen to generate
a gas that is released into un-treated water, killing
bacteria faster than chlorine.
Plus, the city's water contains fluoride, which is good
for building strong teeth and is an ingredient lacking
from most bottled waters. Tests comparing Detroit water
with a half-dozen bottled waters -- including Evian and
Aquafina -- have found that the city's water is just as
good -- and in some cases better -- than what you buy
in the store, water department officials say.
Many of the details, like cost, product name and distribution,
will have to be worked out after a bottler is selected.
But the department's interim deputy director, Gary Fujita,
seems confident that Detroit's water can stand up to the
likes of Evian.
"Afterall, remember Evian spelled backwards is naive,"