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A Feud Unfiltered



It was August 1995. The Outdoor Industry’s attention was focused on pink and teal fleece pullovers, cargo shorts, and the death of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. So you might be excused if you missed this piece in SNEWS about a dispute between SweetWater and PUR. 

 

Water Wars is a term that conjures images of conflict and scarcity, legal disputes, and passions over control, allocation, and resource rights. In some cases, such as in California’s Owens Valley in 1924, these conflicts escalate to pissed off farmers dynamiting the Los Angeles Aqueduct because some Bond villain steals their water out from under their noses. 

 

So no one should have been that surprised when the issue of water escalated to a shooting match on the pages of SNEWS. Portable filtration was becoming an increasingly competitive space as technology advanced to remove both bacterial and viral contaminants in a more portable way. Of course, by today’s standards, these pump and chemical solutions are like calvary charging into a column of tanks.

 

(Yes, I know that might be a bit of an overdramatic analogy. But it’s war, so I’m sticking with it.)

 

Since the 1970s, players such as MSR (Mountain Safety Research) and First Need (General Ecology) began selling filters made for the outdoor market. However, the 1980s/1990s saw an increased competition. Established filtration experts such as Swiss maker Katadyn, a leader in purification and desalination systems since 1928, and home filtration leader PUR entered the fray. And a new category-focused upstart started to gain traction, SweetWater.

 

(Old Timer chiming in: In my day, chemical filtration left a distinct taste in your mouth. The SweetWater name was an attempt to position itself as distinct from the others. Get it? Sweeeet.) 

 

It’s in this context that SweetWater, in an effort to protect its ‘authentic’ position as a true enthusiast solution, went after PUR, an outsider to the outdoor space. While business beefs aren’t new, it’s hard to believe in today’s litigious climate we’d see such a direct attack as described in the SNEWS piece. But then again, it is water. Maybe we should just be glad they didn’t bring the dynamite?  

 

Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened? Just what you’d expect. SweetWater was acquired by MSR. PUR was acquired by Proctor and Gamble, then sold to Katadyn. Same as it ever was. 

 

If you’re interested in learning about the villains, heroes, and hubris of real water wars, check out Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner. The scale and depth of its research is only equaled by its shocking revelations and page-turner storytelling. It’s like it could be a movie…

-David Karstad




The Life And Times Of Outdoor History, by Rock Fight Contributor David Karstad, is available to receive early every week by subscribing to Rock Fight's weekly newsletter: News From The Front. Click Join The Mailing List to sign up today.


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