05/24/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Water Regs with Teeth, or More of the Same? Corporate Social Responsibility, or Bluewashing?

Originally published on The Green Fork.

Monday, The New York Times' Charles Duhigg wrote about the Environmental Protection Agency's World Water Day announcement that it would monitor more chemicals (including the pesticide atrazine, rocket fuel ingredient perchlorate, copper, arsenic and lead - all chemicals a person might suppose were already regulated) in our drinking water and step up enforcement but, as always, the devil's in the details.

"There is a history of this agency making big announcements, and then changing very little," said an agency regulator who was not authorized to speak to the media. "The real test will be to see how many new chemicals have been regulated six months from now."

Assuming Duhigg's source was wrong and the EPA in fact does begin monitoring the 14 chemicals they announced they were working on, the total number of regulated chemicals would increase to 105 - less than two-tenths of one per cent of the 60,000 total chemicals used in the US. To be fair, many of those chemicals are likely not considered to be harmful to public health or the manners by which they are used may make it unlikely for them to enter water supplies, and regulating chemicals in drinking water is expensive - Duhigg also notes that "(a)ny new policies will most likely force water systems to use more advanced technologies, which are often costlier."

All the same, clean drinking water is the basis of a healthful society and a healthful planet, and without strong government regulations over that cleanliness, some communities could be relegated to relying on bottled water, which is actually even less stringently regulated and more expensive than tap -- not to mention the ecological implications of the plastic bottles and fossil fuels involved in the packaging and shipping.

Late last year, Duhigg wrote a feature-length article about the uneven quality of tap water around the US and the lack of regulation of chemicals that actually pose serious health risks. All of this adds up to a boon for bottled water companies, which capitalize on public mistrust of tap water. (Case in point: as I re-read Duhigg's piece from December, a Culligan ad ran in the sidebar of the Times' web site.)

Such tactics are in bad faith at best, but it gets worse - while the companies get rich off the increasingly poor (but, I must remind you, better than almost anywhere else in the world) quality of US tap water, they also have long taken advantage of World Water Day to promote themselves as protectors of the common good, a tactic Food & Water Watch calls "bluewashing." The watchdog organization has put together a whole report on the practice - read it and weep.

For more on water, tune into a Huffington Post webcast with Kerry Trueman, Elizabeth Royte and Annie Leonard tonight at 8pm eastern.