What’s Up With This ‘Free The Water’ Campaign?
Each week, we set out to answer a question on the mind of Concord Patch readers as part of our You Ask, Patch Answers column. This focus of this week’s column is the FreetheWater.org campaign and website that’s been making a bit of a splash of late.
According to members of the group and a sentence at the bottom of website's homepage, FreeTheWater.org “is supported by Concord Residents for Consumer Choice, a local coalition of concerned citizens.”
The original group, Concord Residents for Consumer Choice, is seeking to repeal a bylaw prohibiting the sale of non-sparking, unflavored drinking water in single-serve PET bottles of 1 liter or less. The bylaw was approved by annual Town Meeting last April, was ratified by the Attorney General’s office a few months later and took effect earlier this year.
Concord resident Robin Garrison is the citizen petitioner behind article on the Town Meeting warrant seeking to repeal the bottle bylaw.
“When it passed Town Meeting, I thought it it was ratified that I’d need to do something,” Garrison told Patch in an interview earlier this year. “I believ in the right to buy a legal product in the town we live in. It’s not a personal quest for me; it’s on behalf of the greater community.”
The Free the Water website does not prominently feature information about Garrison’s warrant article, but it does use some colorful language to drum up support for the bylaw’s repeal and encourages residents to vote at the upcoming Town Meeting.
The also invites visitors to the site to make donations, sign petitions and support lifting the “ban” in other ways, such as social media, yard signs and letters to the editor. The website further casts the ban—which, at least in principal, has been approved by annual Town Meeting on more than one occasion—as “empty symbolism” that hurts local businesses more than it helps the environment.
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Supporters of the bylaw have also been active over the past few months.
For instance, a number of local businesses stocked shelves with Concord On Tap-stamped Camelbak reusable water bottles. And the Concord On Tap campaign has produced a map of local businesses that have promised to provide tap water when asked to do so.
Concord On Tap Campaign Manager Jill Appel, along with Jean Hill, the woman who initially brought the ban before Town Meeting, can be expected to stand in defense of the bylaw.
“I’m really very proud of Concord,” Appel told Patch in an interview earlier this year. “We’re trying to reset the default. We need to focus on the positive, support our local businesses and remind people that for the average individual it’s a very small change.”
In addition to promoting the positives of the water bottle-banning bylaw, supporters have also criticized opponents of the bylaw for ties to the bottled water industry. That assertion was bolstered by the presence of street teamers from Sage Systems, who were pushing a pair of anti-bottle bylaw petitions polling places around Concord during the November elections. Mike McLaughlin, who identified himself at the time as the Sage Systems employee coordinating that effort, said the initiative supported by Bottled Water Matters, a coalition linked up with the International Bottled Water Association.
While that effort fizzled out, the bottle bylaw opposition’s apparent ties to the bottled water industry persist in the form of links to IBWA press releases under the Free the Water website's News section. With that being said, members of Concord Residents for Consumer Choice maintain that, while IBWA members have sat in on meetings, the group’s ties to the association are limited to looking to the IBWA as an informational resource.
"We're grassroots," Garrison said last month. "And I'd like to keep it that way."