Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink

Martha Muzychka
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This past weekend, my social networks and news feeds were filled with stories about the Salmon Festival in central Newfoundland.

They raved about The Eagles, paid kudos to The Tragically Hip, and highlighted all their favourite songs from the many musicians and groups on the stage. By all accounts, it was a musical extravaganza that lived up to its hype big-time.

But one thing emerged, and I found it disturbing. Water, many reported, was in short supply. Line-ups were long (as much as a half hour or more), and the prices were outrageous ($4 per bottle). There were reports of people fainting while waiting to reach the counter for their turn to purchase.

Then, the unthinkable: vendors ran out.

While there was all kinds of beer and other sorts of refreshments, there was no more water for a period of time. Don't forget: temperatures were soaring on the brilliantly sunny day, approaching 30 C, which had been predicted, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that there would be a demand for water.

What surprised me, and also upset me, were the reports that those who anticipated the heat and brought water in had it confiscated. Liquor, even soda, being taken makes sense as that's a profit generator. But water?

Not everyone wants to drink beer or soda, and on a hot day, you need water to avoid dehydration and all its associated complications. It must have been rage-inducing to be reminded that you should drink water to keep well hydrated while having to wait in line to buy the same.

It struck me that some bright light must have thought this would be another moneymaker. For heaven's sake, though, someone should have done the math: 30,000 people, a hot sunny day with record temps, and limited supplies and outlets means you have a formula for disaster.

You can do it differently. Local road races have water stations, and there are even people watching the athletes who offer water to all comers.

If you travel out of province, it becomes fairly obvious that other communities and businesses in North America have a different approach. They either sell water at affordable prices - I have bought a litre and a half for as little as $2 - or they make it available free through taps and fountains. Many sites, such as universities, have instituted a bottled water ban, to support local, accessible and safe water supplies.

It's not just North America. Most European cities also have widely available and prominently labelled water fountains where you can fill up a bottle as you go. Many zoos, nature and theme parks - like Disney, for example, where one cannot escape a ride without coming through a gift shop - have freely available water fountains everywhere.

Even airlines will ply you with free water and no one confiscates your water (unless you forget and try to carry it through the security screening vs. buying/filling a bottle after).

The good thing about this debacle is that it has started a discussion about people's right to water. Make no mistake: failing to appreciate the public health risk the lack of water creates for large scale summertime events will keep people away in the future.

We should be asking questions of the organizers of this event and others. Will they take note and realize that gouging customers who have already forked over a great deal of money is not a sustainable business model?

Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant in St. John's. Water with lemon is her number one drink. Email: socialnotes@gmail.com.

Organizations: Tragically Hip

Geographic location: Newfoundland, North America, St. John's

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Recent comments

  • a business man
    July 17, 2013 - 06:43

    Bottled water is a cash cow. One of my businesses is a restaurant, and we do not give glasses of water. If a customer asks for a glass of water, we reposnded by saying "we only serve bottled water here". No one gets anything for free, and no one has to come to my restaurant. If they choose to come, and if they want water, they can pay. If they faint, maybe they can have some tap water. Frankly, I have a well planned menu and business, but nothing is more profitable than selling bottled water at $4.50/bottle. It is greedy, but as a restaurant owner, I have a right to be greedy, and so the promoters. No one is entitled to free water at the expense of another. No one is entitled to anything at the expense of another.

    • stephen
      July 25, 2013 - 20:28

      If your so cocky about the water costing 4.50 at your restaurant tell us the name of it. Thought so. PS anyone who considers a nearly dead band entertainment deserves death by thirst. Take it Easy.

  • Ben Turpin
    July 16, 2013 - 19:21

    The idea of VIP is great, but the same mentality gets people to buy great residential building lots, and before long the bit of green space around them is chinched with new development. In 2005 the cost for CBS to purchase water from the St. John’s Regional Water Authority was $421,000. The cost to purchase water for 2013 is estimated at $1,459,000. The projection for 2014, provided by the St. John’s Regional Water Authority, is $1,939,000. Those who scorn bottled water may not enjoy having a water meter installed on your residence.

    • PaulSt.John's
      July 17, 2013 - 06:49

      I welcome the idea of water meters, Ben. But it's a crime or at least immoral to corral thousands of people into a hot gated field and charge them 4 bucks a bottle just because you can.

    • Jackson
      July 17, 2013 - 18:53

      People who forked over large bucks 10-15 years ago for houses are now on a 24-7 water-ban regine in CBS but the building goes on. Make sense to you? A greedy mayor, in over his head, and minions for a council should be ashamed of themselves.

  • paulSt.John's
    July 16, 2013 - 10:16

    Was the bottled water industry invented by the Mafia? You would almost think so. The idea of taking away people's water and forcing them to line up and buy more in 30 degree heat is bloody insane. Someone should be sued.

    • a business man
      July 17, 2013 - 06:27

      Sued? Good luck with that. It is a private event put on by a corporation. The underlying goal is profit, and selling water is legal. So it telling patrons that they cannot bring in outside food or drinking. Forcing them to line up in 30 degree heat is just smart business. Perhaps the customers should have been responsible and bought their water right away before it ran out. I know I would of. Lastly, $4 dollars for water is cheap at an event. They should have been charging more.

  • intheknow
    July 16, 2013 - 09:49

    For her incredibly slanted and biased "reporting" of what she read on social media and not from any 1st hand knowledge Ms. Muzychka should retire from journalism. She bases her assumptions on admittidly unconfirmed reports. Where is here attempt to get to the truth, talk to the oragnizers or concert goers who had different experiences (many people report having had an amazing time and loved the whole experience), to get to the truth? No of course not. Why let balanced reporting get in the way of a juicy negative story?

  • intheknow
    July 16, 2013 - 09:37

    You were led to believe incorrectly. This is the third year that SRO Entertainment has been running the Salmon Festival CONCERT starting with the KISS concert two years ago. The town still runs the Salmon Festival. The cost of water and soft drink was $4 this year...the same as the last two years (still expensive but not unusual for this type of event). Because of excessive heat and larger than normal crowds they did run out of water in the VIP section. There was still water at other stations. This was the responsibility of the promoter. The town should receive praise for bringing two truck loads of water that had been earmarked for Grand Falls-Windsor Day on Monday, to the field and distributing it FOR FREE. Clearly the promoter fell short but to lay any blame on the town of Grand Falls-Windsor is very unfair. Also as anybody who has ever attended major outdoor concerts anywhere in the world, complaints about long waits at concessions and high prices are the norm. According to health officials, some people required treatment for heat but the were NO serious health issues. You think no one has ever fainted at an outdoor concert before?? Seems like a whole lot of whining going on here. Maybe a hidden agenda by a St. John's journalist...jealous that the province';s biggest concert isn't in Sin Jawns. God forbid.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    July 16, 2013 - 08:53

    The sentiments expressed by Ms. Muzychka regarding this fiasco are bang on. To deprive patrons of water in such heat was a health and safety issue resulting from a combination of stupidity, greed, and lack of foresight. Regrettably, it appears that the Salmon Festival is truly at risk of becoming a victim of it's own success. Such stupidity and greed of the organizers may well result in killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

  • Calvin
    July 16, 2013 - 08:50

    Absolute insanity. Denying people access to water..... I thought that only happened in third world countries. The town and the promoters should be ashamed, and I hope someone files a class action lawsuit to teach these dirtbags a lesson.

  • Jay
    July 16, 2013 - 08:43

    You're absolutely right. For a place which promotes "hospitability," this province's small minded "hospitality industry" gives new meaning to the word greed and the tourists are not falling for it anymore. The Salmon Fest was a large event, but the VIP section was falsely advertised, there was a severe shortage of staff, basic infrastructure was ignored, and you couldn't even get any water. It seems that the only message that Grand Falls got was "let's suck every cent out of this endeavour which we can, and put nothing back." It will come back to haunt them, and in a few years they'll wonder what happened to the Salmon Fest.

  • The Festival seems to have been driven by Gross Profit?
    July 16, 2013 - 08:41

    From what I understand this Festival has gone of swimmingly for many years. This year, I am led to understand the event was passed over to an organizer from New Brunswick with a seventy-five per cent/ twenty-five per cent split, the New Brunswick organizer got 75 per cent. So should we deduce from what we have heard so far, if you want to spoil a good thing all one has to do is chance the proven structure of the venue and pass it over to an entity that only has gross profit on its mind.

    • Brent
      July 16, 2013 - 10:20

      This is not the first year with the new promoter. They've been involved since the 2011 festival.