For McCrory, mayors' request on bottled water sounds all wet

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, in North Carolina for a gubernatorial debate Saturday, lost a water fight in Miami.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, an absent McCrory failed to fight off a resolution encouraging cities to stop spending public money on bottled water.

The resolution, sponsored by mayors in 15 cities – including New York, Boston and Chicago – called on cities to “phase out, where feasible, government use of bottled water and promote the importance of municipal water.”

McCrory and another mayor, Don Robart of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, had offered a competing resolution, withdrawn on Saturday, that merely stressed the importance of municipal water and encouraged recycling efforts.

Neither resolution was binding.

The surviving resolution was passed by a committee Saturday and goes before the full conference for a vote Monday. It is expected to pass.

“It's not pragmatic,” McCrory said of the winning resolution. “What about sparkling water? What about beer? What about Coke? Where do you draw the line?”

The dueling resolutions represented a small but symbolic front in an ongoing battle between environmental activists and the beverage industry, which sells more than $10 billion in bottled water a year to U.S. consumers.

Activists condemn such sales, saying that water bottles, although recyclable, often end up in landfills.

“It's just common sense for cities to stop spending so much on bottled water and use it to spend on other public services,” said Gigi Kellett, national director of the Think Outside the Bottle Campaign, said after Saturday's vote. The campaign is organized by Boston-based nonprofit Corporate Accountability International.

More than a dozen U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Miami, have moved to limit municipal purchases of bottled water. Miami city commissioner Marc Sarnoff told the Miami Herald last week that his city could save as much as $200,000 with the decision.

McCrory was helped by the American Beverage Association, according to a report last week in the New York Times. McCrory said Saturday that he had received a letter from the organization and didn't know if its specific thoughts appeared in his resolution.

“I spent about one minute on it,” he said. “There are several other serious issues we could be talking about.”

McCrory, who said he personally drinks tap water, said he does not know how much Charlotte's municipal government spends on bottled water. He noted that Charlotte is home to Pepsi and Coca-Coca bottlers.

“That industry is important in Charlotte,” he said. “It's a huge employer.”