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  • How to Lie with Numbers: Peter Gleick

    This is a section from and article by Peter Gleick posted on Circle of Blue Waternews. He describes how some of the numbers we've heard in the news lately are political calculations. This sort of misuse of numbers hides very real problems.

    Dr. Gleick says:

    "Water Number: 0.019% or something much larger.

    What is the fraction of groundwater used for bottled water? A substantial amount of the bottled water sold in the United States—around 60 percent—comes from groundwater. This water is typically labeled “spring” water according to regulations set by the FDA. In recent years, there has been growing public opposition to the construction of large spring water bottling plants in small rural communities in Maine, Michigan, California, Colorado and elsewhere because of fear, and some direct physical evidence, that such large plants adversely affect local groundwater levels, flowing springs and local wetlands. In response, the bottled water industry, led by the International Bottled Water Association, launched a campaign (including testimony to state and federal legislators) arguing that there was no problem because “ground water withdrawals for bottled water production represent only 0.019 percent of the total fresh ground water withdrawals in the U.S.” Ah, here rears the ugly head of the denominator problem. This number is probably very close to true. It is also completely irrelevant and misleading. The proper denominator should not be total U.S. groundwater withdrawals, it should be some measure of local groundwater availability, or use, or yield — a much smaller denominator. In this case, a bottled water withdrawal may be a very significant fraction of local groundwater. But by choosing a big denominator, the industry was attempting to disguise a problem."

    Read the complete article: The Denominator Problem; Misleading Use of Water Numbers.