WHEN residents of the Southern Highlands village of Bundanoon called a town meeting a year ago and voted 355 to one in favour of banning bottled water, few predicted the deluge.
Within hours, the bike shop owner and campaign organiser, Huw Kingston, was fielding calls from the BBC, Al-Jazeera and The New York Times. Documentary film crews from Europe were scouring their atlases looking for ''Bundanoon''.
As the first recognised town in the world to replace plastic bottles with free public bubblers, it also earned the ire of the powerful beverage industry, which saw its profits start to fade for the first time last year.
A US lobby group, the International Bottled Water Association, orchestrated an internet campaign on Facebook and Twitter and funded videos on YouTube mocking the residents whom it accused, with little sense of irony, of mounting a ''PR spin campaign''.
''But we've been contacted by literally dozens and dozens of communities and councils from around Australia and overseas who are keen to reduce bottled water consumption,'' Mr Kingston said.
He said most of the town's critics assumed the citizens of Bundanoon were fanatically opposed to bottled water, when the campaign was always meant to be about better free public water resources. ''It's not really about going bottled water-free. The whole thrust of our advice has been to put in bubblers.''
Bundanoon's vote helped fuel a backlash against bottled water that is still growing. Global sales reportedly fell by up to 10 per cent in 2009, although they have since levelled out.
The Australasian Bottled Water Institute, the industry body in the region for water bottlers such as Coca-Cola Amatil, said sales had risen about 5 per cent this year.
But a report on the state of the Australian industry by the consultancy IBISWorld and released in January, predicted a drop in profits in the sector of 0.6 per cent this year, although the industry remained profitable. The consultancy said it ''believes criticism of bottled water's environmental impact will lead firms in the industry to reduce or adopt renewable packaging and introduce carbon-neutral products''.
The Australasian Bottled Water Institute thinks campaigns like the Bundanoon ban are ineffective. ''It might have a short-term effect but in the long run Australians are looking for the healthy option and having bottled water available provides them with that,'' its chief executive, Geoff Parker, said.
Mr Parker attended the Bundanoon meeting last July and voted informally against the ban. He said his industry group did not authorise the YouTube campaign but confirmed he was aware of what the US industry group was planning to do.
The NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, which has stopped having bottled water delivered to its offices and discourages staff from buying new bottles, said many councils had sought funding to install new bubblers after the Bundanoon ban. Councils in Manly, Mosman, Lane Cove, Port Macquarie-Hastings and Lismore were among those installing extra public bubblers, the department said.