TUCSON -- If you're visiting southern Arizona's Saguaro National Park this spring and don't bring along your own thirst quenchers, take note: The park is discontinuing on-site vending machine sales of disposable bottled water and soda.
New water bottle filling stations are located at the park's two visitor centers, where BPA-free, reusable bottles are available for purchase for as little as $1.99 (versus $1.25 for vending machine water).
Last week's Saguaro announcement came after a similar move by Grand Canyon National Park, which eliminated sales of water packaged in individual disposable containers starting March 10. Visitors to the park's heavily trafficked South Rim will find six recently installed water-bottle refilling stations near major trail heads, with three additional stations on the North Rim.
That's more than a year after the Grand Canyon plan was first announced and then put on hold when Coca-Cola - which bottles water under the Dasani brand - raised concerns. In December 2011, parks director Jon Jarvis announced a new policy permitting parks to eliminate bottled water sales after "rigorous analysis" to assess impact.
A natural history association at Utah's Arches and Canyonlands national parks, meanwhile, is voluntarily removing vending machines - and the bottled beverages they sell - at four locations this spring and summer. Two machines at the Arches visitor center were taken out last week; two others in Canyonlands' Island in the Sky and Needles districts will come out by April 15 and early summer, respectively.
Most Arches and Canyonlands visitors "aren't relying on a little plastic bottle. Water is the limiting factor in this desert environment, and most people know that," says park spokesman Paul Henderson, who notes that bottled beverage sales make up only 1.5% of the Canyonlands Natural History Association's total sales revenue.
But, Henderson adds, "it's the right thing to do."
The latest restrictions follow the example of Utah's Zion National Park, which launched a program in 2008, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which offers water stations and encourages visitors to bring their own bottles or buy a stainless steel reusable bottle at the Kilauea Visitors Center.
And, if a new campaign to ban plastic bottles from the entire national park system has its way, they won't be the last.
Bullfrog Communities, publisher of a documentary film that examines the "big business of bottled water," started the drive this month with a petition calling on parks to install refilling stations and provide easy access to refillable, BPA-free reusable containers rather than bottled water. Signatures will be delivered to NPS regional directors by the end of 2012.