Bottled Water: Is the Tide Turning for a Top Seller?

We have heard from the mother ship.

A few weeks ago, Chez Panisse stopped selling bottled water.

This is big.

Chez Panisse is a serious trendsetter. Thirty-six years ago, the Berkeley, Calif., restaurant started serving local, organic, fresh, seasonal, sustainable food.

The effect? Look around you.

Now, Chez Panisse follows a handful of other restaurants in giving up the bottle.

The restaurant – and others – have qualms about how much energy it takes to get water from Italy to California dinner tables.

Other concerned citizens are upset about the huge number of water bottles not being recycled.

And a political argument is beginning to bubble up: If public water is being bottled and sold, does that mean the water supply is being privatized? Public Citizen and the Sierra Club are just two of the groups asking that question.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's way too early to tell whether the anti-bottled-water crusade will remain a trickle or become a flood.

There are still water bars, water sommeliers and water menus – places where you learn what water goes best with what food.

And there is certainly no sign of retreat in the marketplace.

Americans drank 8 billion gallons of water last year – that's 28 gallons a person – for which we paid nearly $11 billion.

A continued upward trend is predicted.

And store shelves are overflowing with different varieties of water and different packaging.

There's flavored water, vitamin water, fitness water, fruit water, calcium water, electrolyte water, water for kids.

My 25-year-old son drinks water called "Fred." The bottle is shaped like a flask. Fred has a profile on myspace and publishes a trendzine.

For the Hollywood set, there's Bling H2O, which advertises itself as "couture water." It comes in a corked bottle of frosted glass encrusted with Swarovski crystals.

It costs about $35 a bottle and has been tested by actors.

So is the tide turning? Will we see a water war? For now, the public demand shows no sign of drying up.

Bonny Wolf, a Washington Post columnist, is author of Talking with My Mouth Full and contributing editor for Kitchen Window, NPR's online food column.

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