To the New York Times: No, Bottled Water Is Not Sucking Florida Dry

The Times’ writers egregiously omit the most important facts while larding the piece with innuendo and misleading or untrue but self-serving statements.


Florida has a water problem that is revealing something very self-destructive about environmental groups and science journalism. Case in point, the September 15 New York Times article by Michael Sainato and Chelsea Skojec headlined, “Bottled Water Is Sucking Florida Dry.”

The water bottler, of course, is the Swiss multi-national company Nestlé. The opinion piece jumps on the bandwagon whose riders have for decades ballyhooed Nestlé as the archetypal evil corporation. Says the article’s subtitle: “The state’s aquifers are shrinking, yet corporations want to appropriate even more of them.”

The Times’ writers egregiously omit the most important facts while larding the piece with innuendo and misleading or untrue but self-serving statements. Example: “The state and local governments have continued to issue water bottling extraction permits that prevent the aquifer from recharging.” Is it quibbling to note that the aquifers do recharge, but apparently not 100 percent? More seriously, it’s simply false to say the bottling of water prevents the full recharge since bottled water is about 1 percent or less of total extraction. (See the graph of important extractors below.)

Having falsely declared Nestlé and other bottlers to be the arch-villains, the writers propose a false solution. “The answer to this problem is simple: No more extraction permits should be granted, and existing permits should be reduced with the goal of eliminating bottled water production entirely in Florida.”

If they mean no more permits for anyone and no renewals, millions of residents in northern Florida had better start collecting rainwater (even if that would diminish ground water recharge). The target, of course, is Nestlé.

Perhaps they have a valid argument that the costs of extraction should be more than the small $115 application fee for the 1 million gallons a day Nestlé will bottle. (They do forget to mention that the actual permit holder is Seven Springs, which sells the water to Nestlé and that Seven Springs has had this permit for many years.) However, if Florida raises the fee for Nestlé, it would have to up the fee for all the far larger water users.

And who are those water users?

We can assume that either the Times’ writers don’t want readers to know who the big water users are, or that the writers themselves are ignorant and didn’t care to find out.

As indicated by the Suwanee River Water Management District in 2014 (see graph below, from page 9 of the district’s report), the three biggest extractors of Florida aquifer waters are agriculture, the water utility companies, many of which are non-profit public water districts, and home well-water users. Any one of them dwarfs Nestlé’s allowed use. From the district:

Currently, self-supplied agriculture is the largest user of water in the Santa Fe Basin, accounting for approximately 41% of total freshwater withdrawals in 2010 at an estimated 35.3 MGD [millon gallons per day]. Water withdrawals for public supply have also grown significantly in association with increasing population in this five county area, now totaling approximately 32.2 MGD. Domestic self-supply experienced similar growth in this period, but has remained relatively steady since the 1980s, now totaling approximately 11.3 MGD. It should also be noted that commercial-industrial mining uses have decreased significantly since 1965, and now account for only 2.7 MGD, or 3% of total withdrawals in this five county area. Together, these three water use groups account for nearly 91% of estimated freshwater withdrawals.

The New York Times writers abandon the real issues in Florida water when they enumerate communities in other states where some citizens oppose Nestlé water bottling. They bring on Flint, Michigan, not because Nestlé bottles there but because, “Residents of Flint have noted that while Nestlé pays practically nothing for water [elsewhere in Michigan], they are faced with high bills for poisoned water and have to rely on purchased bottled water.” The pollution of Flint’s water has nothing to do with Nestlé, of course, and they pay high bills because their bills include water purification and replacing old water lines and meters.

Finally, the writers resort to the obligatory climate change issue even if they have to leave Florida and cross the continent for a connection. They imply that Nestlé water withdrawals in a California national forest are stealing water desperately needed for biodiversity. They quote Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, “All the climate change modeling that has been done suggests Southern California mountains are going to get drier and hotter.” They also suggest Nestlé may have been taking more than its allowable withdrawal. “The California Water Resources Control Board is investigating whether Nestlé has taken more water from the springs than authorized.”

The Times’ article ends with a brief return to Florida, declaring that “Florida should prioritize providing safe drinking water for its residents, rather than bottling that water to resell elsewhere.” By this time the writers have made it clear that their interest is not in any solution to Florida’s water problem or even presenting the economics and science accurately. Rather, they are rewording the familiar argument that humanity is destroying nature and that human greed sanctioned by capitalism and embodied in the Wehrmacht of large corporations is the cause.

When even The New York Times publishes the clichés of propaganda lightly disguised as informed opinion, it undermines science and reason in general. It also validates the adversarial journalism that has not only contributed to the bitter divisiveness among Americans, but also convinces Americans that journalists are not to be trusted, even that there’s no such thing as truth.

I’ve been active in environmental causes for over 55 years, both as a leader of three state environmental groups and as a science writer. I have co-authored three books with scientists whose political opinions are quite different from mine. Credibility requires understanding and taking into account all perspectives. The greatest service we can do to protect our natural environment is to protect the credibility of our claims and analysis. Credibility is everything.

Protecting Our Natural Surroundings

“I divide environmental topics into two sometimes overlapping groups, ‘romance’ and ‘sludge.’ The romance sector includes parks, forests, wildlands, wilderness, wildlife, and scenic vistas.”

By John Baden

I divide environmental topics into two sometimes overlapping groups, “romance” and “sludge.” The romance sector includes parks, forests, wildlands, wilderness, wildlife, and scenic vistas. These treasures grace calendars and coffee table books. Most educated and comfortable adults, even committed urbanites, are attracted to and want to protect this sector.

The second division is sludge. This term refers to nasty stuff that is often the necessary byproduct of legitimate productive activities such as food processing, mining, and manufacturing. These are spillovers from legitimate and useful activities.Economists call this category negative externalities. They ask: How might we efficiently reduce them—or even better, convert them into useful products?

That’s exactly what environmental entrepreneurs did when they converted the wood waste and scrap from lumber mills into valuable wood panels. Those panels replaced plywood—which had replaced boards formerly cut from old growth trees. Lesson here? In a market process economy, superior substitutes naturally evolve.

We can’t live without some sludge; it’s inherent in living and using products from the earth. While recognizing this, I choose to work in the romance arena. Had I elected to focus on sludge, I’d live in Boston and study its harbor. Instead, I live on a ranch between Bozeman and Yellowstone Park and study my surrounding habitat. Thus, I work in the tradition of America’s first conservationists.

America’s old-line conservation organizations were primarily concerned with the romance sector of their environment, largely with protecting wildlife. A common target was market hunters, people who overexploited the wildlife commons. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918, one of the oldest wildlife protection laws, was among the National Audubon Society’s first major victories.

The 1857 book Wild Northern Scenes; Sporting Adventures with the Rifle and the Rod is an example of the connection between outdoor recreation and preservation of environmental romance. In this book, S.H. Hammond writes: “We are here alone with nature, surrounded by old primeval things. Tall forest trees, mountain and valley are on the right hand and on the left. Before us, stretching away for miles, is a beautiful lake, its waters calm and placid, giving back the bright heavens, the old woods, the fleecy clouds that drift across the sky, from away down in its quiet depths.”

My columns and posts build on a lifelong interest in conservation. It began by creating the Concord Conservation Club while in the fifth grade of the small, high-quality and quite rural Concord School  in Miami County, Ohio.

Our club focused on wildlife, both fish and game. For example, I recall Field and Stream articles on the importance of fence rows in providing habitat. In those years family farms fields were small by today’s standards; forty acres was a large one. Most farms were fenced to keep farm animals, mainly beef and dairy cows and flocks of sheep, in for grazing. Various types of grasses and small bushes grew on both sides of each fence. I learned that fence rows provided good habitat for small animals nesting, hiding from predators, and gaining protection from weather. I maintained  my interest through high school and college and expressed it through hunting and fishing.

My columns with the Goodman Institute will be written while enjoying life in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. My goal is to explain how responsible liberty, sustainable ecology, and modest prosperity can complement one another while fostering wholesome communities. Communities flourish within this trinity. Eliminate any one and life becomes problematic, unpleasant over the long term—even unsafe.

Of the three elements of this trinity, modest prosperity is often underrated. Especially by Greens with a “woke” philosophy. Socialists and other authoritarians fail to understand the linkages among liberty, prosperity, and sustainable ecological systems.

They see economics as a subset of engineering rather than of evolutionary biology. Hence, they believe that prosperity can be designed and administered by the governmental bureaucracies via regulations and directives. This command approach never has and never will succeed. Why?

Bureaucratic knowledge is incomplete, and errors are common. Further, incentives often yield perverse outcomes. For example, federal programs to subsidize draining prairie potholes, America’s “duck factories,” destroy habitat for migratory water fowl and terrestrial wildlife dependent on pools of water. Reclamation irrigation dams destroy salmon runs. Here as elsewhere, political forces trump ecology and economics.

Prosperity, as contrasted to windfall gains from winning a lottery or finding gold, evolves as individuals discover ways to move resources to higher value. I will be discussing that in the future with the example I know best, our ranch.

John A. Baden is founder and chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE), located in Bozeman, Montana.

Are Global Skeptics Dying Off?

Lindzen spoke at Heartland Institute’s International Climate Change  Conference in July. “They all . . . could recognize that what was called climate science bore little relation to actual science.”

By Jane Shaw Stroup

For the past 30 years, ever since global warming became a public issue, Richard Lindzen, emeritus professor of meteorology at MIT, has questioned the apocalyptic view of climate change. As the topic rose to public attention in the late 1980s, Lindzen was so prominent that his views could not be ignored. Richard Kerr wrote in Science magazine in 1989 that “no other U.S. skeptic has such scientific stature.”

But over time, Lindzen became a target of hostility from advocates of global warming extremism. More disturbing perhaps were sometimes subtle attacks by his colleagues, including editors of peer-reviewed journals. For example, as he recounted in 2008,[1] the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published a paper, written with colleagues, that found a strong cooling effect from clouds. But the Bulletin then published a paper disputing this cooling effect without giving Lindzen and his coauthors the opportunity to respond in the same issue (the normal practice). And American Scientist, the journal of the scientific honor society Sigma Xi, refused to publish an article by Lindzen unless he found as a coauthor someone who differed with him on global warming!

On July 25, Lindzen spoke at the International Conference on Climate Change sponsored by Heartland Institute in Washington, D.C. His talk aimed at showing that a significant number of well-known scientists were skeptical about extreme harms from global warming during the past 30 years. His goal was to bring them out of the shadows. Most of the 21 scientists on his list are dead.

On his list were people like William Nierenberg, a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and became director of the Scripps Oceanographic Institute, the premier such institute in this country, and Robert Jastrow, professor of geophysics at Columbia University, founding director of the Goddard Institute and the first chairman of NASA’s Lunar Exploration Committee.

There were also Reid Bryson, founder of the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin; Joanne Simpson, president of the American Meteorological  Society and NASA’s lead weather researcher; Robert White, NOAA’s first administrator; Fred Singer (still alive and writing at age 94), who established the National Weather Service’s Satellite Service Center and is viewed as the first predictor of the earth’s radiation belts; Ivar Giaevar, who received a Nobel prize for his work in superconducting; and 14 others.

These were leading figures in science, said Lindzen. “They all . . . could recognize that what was called climate science bore little relation to actual science and that there was nothing to suggest the alarm being raised,“ said Lindzen. “Nobody was suggesting that there was no greenhouse effect or that climate doesn’t change. . . . They were simply noting the obvious—that there was nothing unusual in what we were seeing in climate, including extreme events.”

“I’m still puzzling over how it happened that there are so many people who questioned this [hysteria] yet it made no impact on the field,” said Lindzen. One reason was that “they were very often quite private in their questioning.” For example, Joanne Simpson did not speak out until she had retired from NASA. But, he mused, “somehow the rest of us didn’t make a effort at contacting these people. There was very little coordination.”

Lindzen gave credit to Heartland for bringing many skeptics together but seemed to be saying that members of the scientific community did not do what they might have done. The campaign for climate alarm was “highly organized, planned, thought out, funded, and the opposition was completely fragmented.”

[1] Richard S. Lindzen, “Climate Science: Is It Currently Designed to Answer Questions?” Paper given before Euresis (Associazone per la promozione e la diffusione della cultura e del lavoro scientifico) and the Templeton Foundation, Creativity and Creative Inspiration in Mathematics, Science, and Engineering: Developing a Vision for the Future, San Marino, August 29-31, 2008. Updated September 21, 2012.

What Went Wrong with the Obama-Era “Waters” Rule?

The EPA used outdated and controversial methods to justify its expansion of federal regulation of streams, rivers, and lakes, writes R. David Simpson in a new PERC policy paper.


By Jane Shaw Stroup

In a new PERC policy paper, R. David Simpson reports on his experience reviewing the cost-benefit analysis of an Obama-era regulation defining “WOTUS.” (In Washington lingo, that is “waters of the United States.”)

Simpson, an economist formerly with the Environmental Protection Agency, expresses regret that he did not press harder to improve the EPA’s cost-benefit analysis of the rule, issued in 2015. The rule was designed to extend the federal government’s jurisdiction over U.S. waters under the Clean Water Act, bringing relatively isolated streams and wetlands under government regulation.

The rule went into effect, but was stayed by a federal court, then reinstated in 26 states. The Trump administration opposes it, although its future is uncertain.

What went wrong? First, the analysis “relied on dated estimates employing controversial methods that are not accepted by all economists,” says Simpson. Second, “it transferred figures from the contexts for which they were originally derived to waters that would have become jurisdictional under the 2015 rule using poorly explained and apparently ad hoc procedures.”

It also raised constitutional questions: “There seems to be a sort of paradox in supposing that waters characterized by their isolation and tenuous connections to other bodies should be subject to federal regulation.” The Constitution authorizes the federal government to regulate only interstate or international activities, he adds.

The analysis was also based on benefits determined by “willing to pay” surveys. Asks Simpson: “Why should landowners be compelled to undertake costly action for which others say they would be willing to pay, but for which the purported beneficiaries are not actually required to pay?”

Simpson suggests that economic research “could be more effective in motivating voluntary agreements to protect waters than in trying to justify compulsory restrictions imposed without compensation.”

In sum, there’s a better route to liberty, ecology, and prosperity.

For a history of the “WOTUS” debates, and a recommendation for the Trump administration, see Jonathan Adler in Cato’s Regulation magazine:

The Trump administration’s effort to narrow and focus federal regulatory efforts under the CWA is among the most significant, and potentially the most beneficial, of the administration’s efforts to reform environmental regulation.