Don't drink the water: Dispute over bottled water emerges in Vermont state government

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July 29, 2011

Vermont

Montpelier, VT: In March 2011, state officials announced a plan to save money by banning water coolers in and bottled water deliveries to state offices. The measure was promoted as a trifecta win for the government: environmentally-friendly, saving taxpayers more than $200,000 each year, and supporting municipal water systems. It had the support of the Vermont State Employees Association, a union representing approximately 7,000 state workers.

The plan was initially set to go into effect on July 1, but pushback from some state employees has delayed its implementation. Governor Peter Shumlin's administration has fielded a range of complaints, from working long hours inside without air conditioning to bad smelling, dirty tap water. The state tested drinking water at eights locations where water quality was questioned, and found potable water across the board.

But further investigation revealed that plumbing codes and Vermont OSHA rules would require re-installation of drinking fountains in some workplaces and would prevent the ban completely in others. Although the administration is headed back to the drawing board to run a cost analysis of their options, Jeb Spaulding, a secretary in Shumlin's administration, says the state is hopeful the plan will pass with some compromise: "if it's a highway garage and there's only a greasy sink, maybe a bubbler makes sense."[1]

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