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Bottled Water - Are we asking the right questions?

Bottled Water - Are we asking the right questions? Few can have missed the recent furore over bottled water, culminating in an announcement this week that the Government will be banning it in all meetings to protect the environment, under a ‘tap water only’ policy.  
Most would agree that transporting water to the UK from places as far a field as Canada, Japan and Fiji is an unnecessary drain on natural resources, and it is hard to support the case for exporting water from third world countries where fresh water is not universally available, although the argument that water companies invest in local water supply carries some weight. But what about local bottled water
I visited David and Tabitha Urch, owners of Cheddar Water to hear their side of the story. Cheddar Water is sourced from a Spring deep within the cave network of the Mendip Hills. I drove up to the source to meet them and was taken aback by the stunning views from this hidden vantage point, I could see across to Glastonbury, Exmoor and South Wales, not to mention every gust of wind on the Cheddar reservoir.
David is a well-known vet and complimentary therapist (both human and animal) and I asked him why he decided to get into bottled water. “We moved to this farm 6 years ago, we love the seclusion and peace, it’s a perfect antidote to other aspects of our lives” he said, “family is very important to us, we love having our grown-up children, Tabitha and Duncan, around but the farm doesn’t provide enough income to support all of us."" We have Ruby Red cattle, as well as sheep and were granted our higher level organic license last year. The farm has no mains water, so we use the spring water for the livestock. We had it analysed and it proved to be very pure, so we started using it for ourselves too. We were looking for a business that we could run with the children and my wife, Ginny, came up with the idea of bottling the water”.  That was 3 years ago, and today the company produces both still and sparkling Spring Water in a range of sizes from 330ml to 1.5l and supplies most of the local shops and restaurants, including 30 regional Tesco and Asda stores.

Tabitha looks after the production and finances, whilst her brother Duncan is responsible for engineering, sales and marketing. Both call upon David when they need to and I sense that although it is their business, he loves the active involvement.

I ask David about the environmental concerns. “We bottle local water for sale in the local area, so there are not the same transport implications” he explains “our water is the only Spring water in England to be sourced from an organic catchment area, it appeals to people who are looking for something different to tap water, a totally natural product, with no fluoride or anything added. Because the water is filtered through layers of Mendip rock it is high in minerals such as calcium, in fact if you drank 2 litres a day it would provide 1/3 of your calcium requirement”.“Remember that people don’t just choose between bottled water and tap water”, adds Tabitha “they might also choose it over another soft drink or an alcoholic one. Our carbonated water is popular with nominated drivers and others who want to avoid alcohol. It has none of the caffeine or sugars associated with some other soft drinks, and a neutral pH, unlike fruit juices”. As a brewer I know that it takes approx 8 pints of water to produce 1 pint of beer, so there’s another twist on the environmental issue, but we’ll leave that for another day!

Will Cheddar Water be the next Evian? “Absolutely not” say David as Tabitha smiles. “Our ambition is to supply as many regional outlets as possible and generate sufficient income for our extended family to remain in the area. So many young people have to move away, and that’s the route of many problems in Somerset” says David. “We make sure we support fund raisers in the local community too, we supply water for lots of activities, such as walkers raising money for UN Water Day”.Food (or should we say water?) for thought indeed.

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