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The Depressing Reason Bottled Water Is About to Outsell Soda for the First Time

Americans are leaving carbonated beverages behind in favor of bottled water. But their motivations go beyond a general trend away from sugary drinks.

Bottled water sales are set to surpass sales of soda for the first time in the U.S this year, according to Euromonitor data cited by Bloomberg. And beverage industry giants Coca Cola (KO), PesiCo (PEP), and Dr Pepper Snapple (DPS) all say that, while convenience and health reasons are a large force driving the trend, America’s dilapidated water infrastructure is also a significant contributor.

See also: Larry Summers: The Next President Will Need Up to $2 Trillion for Infrastructure

The recent crisis in Flint, Michigan that left children and parents without safe tap water due to dangerous levels of lead from old pipes highlighted the significant lapses in basic U.S. infrastructure.

“Concerns in places like Flint do bring bottled water to people’s attention as a safe and sealed source of drinking water,” Jane Lazgin, a spokeswoman for bottled water market leader Nestle Waters North America, told Bloomberg. “People feeling unsafe about their drinking water clearly leads them to drink it out of a bottle,” added Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analyst Ali Dibadj.

 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that there must be at least $384 billion in critical repairs made to American water infrastructure in order for the system to remain sustainable through 2030. Funding has fallen far, far short of that to date, even though analysts have estimated the Flint crisis could have spurred more than $275 billion in water pipe upgrades.

Although soda sales (and particularly diet soda sales) have been plunging, companies like Coke and Pepsi also own popular bottled water brands like Dasani and Aquafina, respectively.