Yes, yes, from Oakland to Baltimore they’re booting the bottle from city government offices and fancy restaurants. The bottle of water, that is, which activists have taken on as yet another villain in the fight to save the planet from choking on plastic or drowning in deep-puddling carbon footprints. Bottled water, critics say, creates mountains of plastic bottles — which take energy to create, from petroleum no less — only 23 percent of which, nationwide, get recycled — which takes more energy to do — leaving the majority to pile up in landfills where they don’t start decomposing until after 700 years have passed, according to stats on the Humboldt Waste Management Authority’s website.
Well, hold that thought in your mind — but gently, with an open heart. Because here in California, where we have the California Redemption Value incentive (that deposit you get back when you recycle a bottle) and a robust environmental ethic, we lead the country in the recycling of plastic bottles. And, even closer to home, a small group of entrepreneurs has developed a bottled water business that could, if successful, create a bundle of cash to help conserve a particularly large, wild and important body of water: the Klamath River.
Allen McCloskey, a member of the Yurok Tribe whose reservation flanks the lower Klamath, and several other tribal members have begun selling bottled spring water from McClellan Mountain, off Highway 36. They’ve recently placed 10,000 bottles of their new label, Native Springs, in local stores, including Wildberries, Murphy’s markets and the co-ops in Arcata and Eureka. And, they plan to donate 5 percent of their profits from sales to the Yurok Tribe to use in its efforts to restore the Klamath River.
Native Springs water is bottled by a small, local company, McClellan Mountain Spring Water, which produces a number of such specialty labels as well as bottled water under its own name. “It’s an all-natural, energized spring water,” said McCloskey. It’s bottled at a plant on Samoa, and it does, indeed, come from a real spring on McClellan Mountain — it’s not glorified tap water, as some so-called “natural” bottled water produced by major companies, such as Coca Cola and Pepsi, has been exposed to be. But the kicker — the thing that McCloskey and his co-entrepreneurs think will grab the consumer as she stands in the market, staring at the cold drinks case, dithering between, say, a 99-cent bottle of McClellan’s own label and the Native Springs label — is that the $1.79 Native Springs water is blessed by Yurok elders.
“The blessing is done in such a way, our people believe it’ll bring emotional, spiritual and mental balance to all who drink it,” McCloskey said. And that, they hope, in turn will foster an urgency in the drinker to understand the Klamath River’s dilemma and become active in saving it.
McCloskey said the bottled-water idea came to him one day after he and his friends had met in his house to talk about the river. “We were discussing how it is that tourists, a lot of them, have no idea that the river has turned into a graveyard for salmon,” he said. “And I was left with the challenge of how to put the message out there. What I did was, I sat down in my chair. And I sat and sat and sat, and while I was thinking and thinking, I got up and got a glass of water from the sink. And I thought: ‘Water. These days, everyone has bottled water.’”
McCloskey balks at the idea that some people might find his idea un-environmental. “As native people, we are the original stewards of the land. And, looking at the California CRV, and the effort for recycling, we didn’t think it would be a problem. Our goal here is that everyone sees our label, [and buys it] and tries to save our salmon. We are not marketing a corporation. We are marketing to save our people. As one Yurok elder, Evelyn Natt, put it, the Klamath River is the lifeline for the Yurok people, and without the river the people will starve.”