Ambitions spring forth

Dunsmuir water company aims to offer fresh, socially conscious alternative to other brands

Thomas Greither started Castle Rock Water with the goals of offering consumers high-quality spring water while caring for the environment at the same time.

Thomas Greither started Castle Rock Water with the goals of offering consumers high-quality spring water while caring for the environment at the same time.

Photo courtesy of Castle Rock Water

Find Castle Rock Water

Log onto to learn more about the company. Its bottles can be found locally at Chico Natural Foods Cooperative.

At a time when water is at a premium here in California, it may seem counterintuitive to bottle that water and sell it. In fact, several of the big bottled-water companies—namely Nestle, which sells California water as Arrowhead—have come under fire of late for profiting off of a precious natural resource that residents are forced to ration.

But amid the big corporations commonly associated with waste and environmental degradation—plastic bottles fill our landfills and greenhouse gases from shipping those bottles fill the atmosphere—is the little guy. Castle Rock Water, opened in 2011 in the small town of Dunsmuir, has a philosophy that goes beyond the bottom line when it comes to bottling water.

“Natural resources should be used for the common good,” said Thomas Greither, Castle Rock president. To that end, the company first paid to renovate a dilapidated city-owned building and now pays rent on that space. It uses only glass, and that glass is 55 percent recycled, to reduce its carbon footprint. And it donates 5 percent of all profits to local nonprofit groups.

Last year, Castle Rock was certified by the Institute for Marketecology in Switzerland as socially responsible. (The institute is the international leader in inspection and certification for ecological, organic and social standards.)

“I wanted to start a water company that has a fair relationship with the community,” Greither said. “I feel in my heart that natural resources should belong to the people.”

In fact, the city of Dunsmuir owns the rights to the water that comes out of the springs that fill Castle Rock’s bottles. Back in 1889, that water was first bottled for consumption by the settlers there and shipped as far away as New York, according to the company’s website. Part of the town’s claim to fame is being home to the “best water on earth.”

But, why bottle it during a drought? Greither says he understands why people are upset about bottling water in California right now. But he also feels they’re pointing their fingers in the wrong direction.

“Look at California’s overall water consumption: 80 percent goes to agriculture and 56 percent [of that] goes to livestock. Only 20 percent goes to residential uses and less than 1 percent is bottled for water,” he said. “Do we really need to eat so much meat, do we really need this lifestyle? There are whole cultures that live without meat. How are we going to solve this water crisis? Basically, we’re going to all have yellow-looking yards so we can have a steak on our table. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that.”

Born and raised in Germany, Greither came to the United States in 1979 with just one suitcase and attended the University of Vermont. He intended to become a doctor. Soon, the tides changed.

“I realized how little attention to health was being paid by doctors,” he said. “They weren’t even required to take a nutrition course. So I decided to switch from medical school to nutrition and foods, and I became a nutritionist.”

Greither actually was following in his father’s—and grandfather’s—footsteps. Both men were nutritionists. His grandfather, Otto Greither, had started an herbal health store in Germany in the early 1900s. Greither himself ran a health food store in Vermont, and also started Flora Health in British Columbia. It’s that company that earned him enough to have the luxury of running a business not entirely based on profit, Castle Rock Water, he said.

Which brings us back to water. In addition to running an environmentally friendly and socially responsible company, Greither also is passionate about the quality of the water we drink. He truly believes the spring water in Dunsmuir, which hails from the glaciers atop Mount Shasta and is naturally filtered through miles of rock and stone, is the best water on the planet. From his nutritionist’s perspective, water is highly undervalued.

“It’s a substance we don’t pay any attention to. We just say, ‘It’s good enough,’” Greither said. “But the human body, 90 percent of it is water. Water is the most important ingredient. High-quality water makes a difference. I want to educate people that water is not just water; we should pay attention to what type of water we use, especially for our health.”

Greither feels strongly that much of the tap water we drink is not as healthy as it should be. In many cases, it’s contaminated or it’s treated with chemicals such as chlorine to make it “safe,” he said. It’s his belief that spring water is both cleaner and healthier. He cited studies that show goldfish in some areas cannot survive on tap water. Indeed, several websites indicate that spring water is a safer environment for goldfish than tap water. (Another alternative is to treat the tap water.)

“Chlorine and chloramine are completely invisible to the naked eye—you can’t see them but your goldfish will feel them,” reads www.completegoldfishcare .com. “If you drop your goldfish directly into tap water, the chlorine will burn their gills and this gill damage can make it hard for your goldfish to breathe.”

There’s clearly no easy solution. Some argue that in fact it’s the bottled water industry that perpetuates the existence of contaminated tap water. “The longer Americans buy bottled water as if it’s a replacement or improvement to tap, and treat tap water as if it’s not worth drinking, the likelier it is those communities [without safe drinking water] will remain marginalized, and their water supplies will remain threatened,” writes Laura Bliss for the Atlantic’s Citylab website.

Greither continues to push on, however, hoping to “prove we can make a difference.”