As Gov. Martin O’Malley testifies at hearings in Annapolis, he often has his trusty three-ring binder in one hand and a plastic bottle of water in the other.

On Tuesday, World Water Day, a small group of environmental activists urged the governor “to kick the bottle out of the State House,” and use the money to invest in the state’s aging water infrastructure.

empty water bottles

Water cooler bottles line a hallway in the State House.

The state of Maryland bought at least $300,000 in bottled water last year, according to the spending accountability website.

Nelly Baldwin, an organizer for Think Outside the Bottle, said more than 30 local Annapolis businesses have signed a letter urging an end to state purchases of bottled water. Fourteen of the businesses, including two restaurants, have pledged not to serve bottled water.

“There’s an erosion of political investment in the public water system,” Baldwin said. “There was a time when people thought buying water in bottles was crazy.”

Ellen Valentino, a lobbyist for the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association, said, “The beverage industry supports the strength and viability of the water system,” especially since “water is a key ingredient of all the products we make.”

But bottled water is an important component of emergency supplies, used when water systems fail. Bottled water is “safe, convenient, nutritious, and portable,” plus the packaging is 100% recyclable.

“There’s a case to be made for emergency services,” Baldwin admitted, but much of the purchases could be eliminated.

It remains to be seen if O’Malley tosses his water bottle. The anti-bottle folks are meeting with O’Malley communications director Rick Abbruzzese Wednesday.

The awareness campaign paid off in Vermont. The administration of that state’s Gov. Peter Shumlin pledged to stop buying much of its bottled water on Tuesday.

—Len Lazarick