Turning water into wine: how did simple H2O become a luxury commodity?

 

Fine Waters International Water Tasting Competition, in Machachi, Ecuador Photograph: Rodrigo Buendía/AFP/Getty Images

 

 

Over the last few years, an unusual and conspicuous sight has become commonplace in the cafes and eateries of Sydney’s inner suburbs: Frequency H20 Alkaline Spring Water. The water, which costs AUD$3.30 per 1 litre bottle, proclaims to be infused with the sound, light and literal frequencies of three very abstract “flavours”: Love (528Hz), Lunar (210.42Hz) and Rainbow (430-770THz).

Last year, Love became the first Australian water in nearly three decades to place first in the best bottled water category of the prestigious Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting. Its creator, Sturt Hinton (not a typo; he’s ironically named after the desert), meets me in his local vegan fish and chip shop. It’s one of 400 stores he personally delivers his product to whenever stocks run low.

“It’s about lifting the spirits of the world, you know what I mean? And lifting my spirits,” he says. He was inspired to create Frequency H20 after a lengthy bout of crippling depression. “Just bringing delight to people, and it delivers this promise to consumers through having something so high quality and people can taste it. They can feel the difference. It’s clean, it’s light, they just love it. They love the idea. What a wonderful concept. Beautiful water.”

The story of Frequency H20 was enough to pique the interest of Katy Perry (whose management requested it during her recent Witness tour), Paris Hilton (now following @frequencyh2o) and the Veronicas, who share their appreciation online with such vigour they could be unofficial brand ambassadors. Following this year’s Berkeley Springs victory, the Australian government at large even took note, with Austrade selecting it for the official Commonwealth Games showcase. Though he claims to have invested $100,000 in its development, Hinton is unwilling to discuss the unique device he claims he designed (“It’s not like Coke is going to give up their trade secret.”) that produces his water by harnessing “the incredible natural alchemy of energised molecules”. He does acknowledge this nebulous air of naturopathy is central to its appeal. That and the trending but increasingly dubious belief that alkaline water is better for you than regular tap water.

In the luxury water business, a free good is repackaged and resold as aspirational. “I think it’s like the most marketable thing ever invented,” Hinton says.

The core of this concept of “fine water” might seem like a new phenomenon, but in fact it dates back to the Roman empire, where certain aqueducts were preferred, or even considered divine, and natural carbonated water was imported from Germania in earthen jars. The industrial revolution would literally poison the well, as drinking water became a vector for diseases like typhus and cholera. The rich could afford to have unspoiled water delivered from remote sources; poor people simply died until municipal chlorination in the early 20th century helped people live longer.

The story of water, then, is the story of the world – and the luxury industry is cashing in.

Hinton’s frequency-infused industry darlings are just the tip of the iceberg. Some premium waters such as Svalbarði, sold locally for A$115 per 750ml bottle, are literally made from icebergs harvested on expeditions to the Arctic Ocean. Water bottles with crystals in them and crystal-infused water like that of Australia’s Madam Dry (A$49.99 per 12 pack) are trends within a trend, inspired by Instagram’s wilderness of “wellness”, the regimens of Miranda Kerr and there’s that naturopathy again: Madam Dry lists what astrological sign the moon was traveling through when “brewing” commenced. Premium, luxury or fine water has even co-opted much of the wine industry’s terminology – “varietal”, “mouthfeel” “terroir” – as well as introducing some of its own. “Total dissolved solids”, for instance, is a measurement scale unique to understanding why and how a water tastes and even feels the way it does. Water from the Fiji Islands, with its TDS of 222, is said to be smooth and velvety. Water like Vichy Catalan from Spain, with its TDS of 3054, is said to be extremely salty and complex.

The phenomenon isn’t particularly new. In 2005, “water sommelier” Martin Riese caught the attention of the media when he created a water menu at Berlin’s First Floor restaurant after a guest complained about the taste of the water on offer. By 2008 he’d published Die Welt des Wassers (The World of Water); in 2010 he was certified by the German water trade association; and in 2013 he landed in Los Angeles, after receiving an O-1 visa for his “extraordinary knowledge of water”.

As the country’s first certified water sommelier, he launched a 45-page water menu at Ray’s & Stark Bar. Two days later, he was a national curiosity, covered on Good Morning America, Fox News and CNN, and even interviewed by television science presenter Bill Nye. He opened a $100,000 bottle of water for a tasting with Diplo and 2Chainz. He appeared on late night host Conan O’Brien’s show in September 2013.

“Pretty much every day, I have people rolling their eyes when they hear the words ‘water sommelier,’ and when I even tell them that I can match water to food, more eye-rolling starts,” Reiss says. But, he stresses, he is driven by a loftier goal. “I want to give value to water. When people understand that water is not just water, they might rethink their use of water.

You may read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper here.

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The White House rolls back a rule on polluting wetlands

AFTER WITNESSING near-biblical calamities, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972. The Cuyahoga river in Ohio caught fire in 1969, the same year 26m fish died in Florida’s Lake Thonotosassa, the largest recorded fish kill, because of pollution from food-processing plants. “Dirty Water”, a song from that era about the repellent Charles river, remains an anthem of Boston sports teams to this day. Since the early 1970s the White House has interpreted the statute in different ways. President Donald Trump’s team, who released a draft rule on December 11th, apparently want to take water law back to the 1980s.

Despite the simple intentions of the Clean Water Act, its language was anything but. It sought to eliminate the discharge of toxic pollutants into “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). Without further guidance, that would seem to encompass everything from frog ponds to the Mississippi river. Sorting out exactly which waterways are subject to pollution safeguards has been the subject of endless redefinition and litigation since. The Supreme Court’s justices last considered the question in 2006, and even they failed to muster a majority opinion. Writing for four of the nine, Antonin Scalia argued that federal authority extended only to “relatively permanent” waters. Writing for himself, Anthony Kennedy said that the rule should apply to waters that bear a “significant nexus” to navigable waters. Controlling precedent lies somewhere in the middle of these two nebulisms.

Protecting wetlands has been a relatively bipartisan endeavour, at least at the federal level. Richard Nixon signed the original Clean Water Act. George H.W. Bush’s administration declared a goal of “no net loss” of wetlands. One-third of Americans get some of their drinking water from the streams being deregulated. “This would be the most significant weakening of Clean Water Act protections in its history,” says Jon Devine of the Natural Resources Defence Council, a lobby group.

For Mr Trump, the rollback completes a campaign pledge made to farmers, who objected vociferously to the Obama-era regulation. Organisations like the Farm Bureau, another lobby group, whipped up fears of government asserting authority over ditches and ponds. In truth both the regulation and the original law already contain generous carve-outs for farmers, says Caitlin McCoy, a fellow at Harvard Law School.

The EPA’s professed rationale for the change is to provide regularity clarity and certainty. A look at its other recent actions suggests that the real aim is to please regulated industries. The agency pushed for rules allowing coal-power plants to resume dumping wastewater contaminated with mercury, arsenic and lead into streams and rivers. It has relaxed rules governing the disposal of coal ash—the toxic by-product produced by combustion that can leach into streams. And it is doing all it can to rehabilitate the struggling coal industry, which retains a political heft out of proportion to its economic value.

But other groups also stand to benefit from diminished water protections: mining companies, factories and chemical processors are keen to see the Obama-era rule disappear. Property developers and golf-course owners often have their plans stymied by wetland protections (why Mr Trump might be sensitive to their plight remains a mystery). Fore!

Source: The Economist magazine.

 

 

Nestle gets water for free and sells it for millions

Nestlé Waters Canada takes 265 million litres a year of fresh water from a Fraser Valley well in Hope and doesn’t pay a cent or is required by provincial law to file any reports on water it takes from BC.

Because of B.C.’s lack of groundwater regulation, Nestlé Waters Canada — a division of the multi-billion-dollar Switzerland-based Nestlé Group, the world’s largest food company — is not required to measure, report, or pay a penny for the millions of litres of water it draws from Hope and then sells across Western Canada.

According to the provincial Ministry of Environment, “B.C. is the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn’t regulate groundwater use.”

While Nestlé is the largest bottled water seller in B.C., others, including Whistler Water and Mountain Spring Water, also draw groundwater from B.C. None are required by law to file any report.

“What we do in Hope exceeds what is proposed by the province of British Columbia,” said John Challinor, Nestlé Waters Canada’s director of corporate affairs. Nestle keeps records of water quality and the company’s mapping of the underground water resources in the area exceeds what government scientists have done, Challinor said.

But the fact that Nestlé’s reports are internal and voluntary is the very issue of concern, said Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“There’s a big, big difference between voluntary reporting and mandatory,” said Parfitt. “If it’s voluntary, there’s nothing to stop a company or major water user from choosing not to report … That is absolutely critical. You can’t run a system like this on a voluntary basis.”

Since groundwater remains unregulated in B.C., Nestle does not require a permit for the water they withdraw.

If you walk into Cooper’s Foods in downtown Hope — less than 5 km away from Nestlé’s bottling plant — and buy a 1.5 litre bottle of Nestlé Pure Life water, it will set you back $1.19.

That’s $1.19 more than Nestle paid to the government last year for withdrawing more than 265 million litres of fresh water from the well.

Nestlé’s other water bottling plant in Canada is in Wellington County, Ont., where the province requires them to buy a license and pay for the water they extract. Some critics feel that Ontario’s charge of $3.71 per million litres is still too paltry. But still, it’s more fair than B.C. charging nothing.

Read the complete article in The Province.

Beer, fish and water. The tale of Prickly Pear Creek.

Relationship between fish and beer

 

 

 

 

 

 

With streams and rivers drying up because of over-usage, Rob Harmon has implemented an ingenious market mechanism to bring back the water. Farmers and beer companies find their fates intertwined in the intriguing century-old tale of Prickly Pear Creek.

View video on TED at this link.