A Nestlé Waters North America bottling plant has operated in South Sacramento since 2010. The three-year California drought has renewed criticism of the plant's use of water.
Bob Saunders, with the Crunch Nestlé Coalition, claims the City of Sacramento made a bad deal allowing Nestlé to tap municipal water.
"The city of Sacramento gets paid approximately $186 per 250,000 gallons of water," said Saunders. "It works out to approximately $2.1 million off the shelf - they re-bottle the water as Arrowhead Water, Pure Life, two main brands - and the profit equals approximately 10,000 percent for Nestlé's at the City of Sacramento's expense."
Saunders' group recently staged a one-day protest, with about 30 people blocking truck entrances to the bottling plant.
"What we're looking for is for the policy to change and we want the contract to change ultimately," said Saunders.
But, there is no "contract" or "deal." Nestlé pays the same rate for Sacramento municipal water as other industrial users.
"The volume metric charge is just under a dollar per hundred cubic feet," said Bill Busath, with the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities.
He said Nestlé also pays slightly more than $200 a month for two water meters. Busath said Nestlé isn't among the 20 largest users of municipal water. The top user is the city. City officials, citing privacy, did not provide a list of the top users of city water.
"And one of those concerns relates to private companies taking our municipal water and bottling it and turning it into a very expensive product," said Gleick. "I think overall the total volume of water that bottling companies use is pretty small."
Nestlé Waters officials agreed with Gleick's assessment that bottling companies use a small volume compared to other industrial users.
"On an annual basis, this facility will use about the same water as a golf course," said Tim Brown, President and CEO of Nestlé Waters North America.
In 2013, Brown said the Sacramento facility used 50 million gallons of Sacramento municipal water to bottle the Pure Life product and for plant operations.
He said the company trucked in 32 million gallons of water from springs in the Sierra foothills to bottle Arrowhead in 2013. (The company says the spring sources for Arrowhead Mountain Spring water bottled at the Sacramento plant comes from Lukens Spring in Placer County, Sopiago Spring in El Dorado County, Sugar Pine Spring in Tuolumne County and Arcadia Spring in Napa County).
Brown said it takes about 1.1 gallons of water to make one-gallon of bottled water.
He said that amount is a fraction of what is used to make soft drinks or beer.
"We're very comfortable that bottled water and what we do here at Nestlé Waters is a very efficient means of getting water to California consumers," said Brown.
Brown said roughly three-quarters of the water bottled by the company in California, stays in the state. He said the water is shipped from the plant in a radius of roughly 200 miles.
He added that, if asked, the plant would reduce the use of Sacramento municipal water.
"In times of drought, be it the state or the local municipalities or the water districts, may issue curtailment directives. And we would follow those," said Brown.
Brown said the amount of water used to operate the plant has been reduced by about 30 percent the past three years.
But that doesn't placate Crunch Nestle Coalition activist Bob Saunders.
"It has to be shared sacrifice and I see nothing being sacrificed by the people in corporations," said Saunders.
Nestlé Waters' CEO Brown said Californians consume bottled water about 30 percent more than average Americans.
And Americans' thirst for bottled water - from all sources - is growing, while demand for soda and fruit juice has declined in recent years. And that appetite for water translates into a profit for Nestlé Waters North America. The company says the operating profit for its water business is 10 percent, before interest and taxes.
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