Crunched for a day: Activists shut down Sacramento’s Nestlé plant

Protesters accuse corporation of exploiting city water during drought

James “Faygo” Clark holds up a sign at the entrance to south Sacramento’s Nestlé water-bottling plant last Thursday.

James “Faygo” Clark holds up a sign at the entrance to south Sacramento’s Nestlé water-bottling plant last Thursday.

Apparently it’s pretty easy to close Sacramento’s largest water-bottling plant. At least for a day.

As early as 4 a.m. this past Thursday, protesters started arriving at south Sac’s Nestlé headquarters in hopes of turning off the water. A skeleton crew of Nestlé workers was already there at the main gate, inside the Florin Fruitridge Industrial Park, when the activists started taping off the driveway to block access to the facility. Employees then casually made a few phone calls and locked the main gate.

“And just like that, nobody else got in to work that day,” explained James “Faygo” Clark, who helped organize the protest.

Turns out, Nestlé had caught word of the shutdown on October 16, which organizers had planned on Facebook weeks in advance and on Twitter with the hashtag “#CrunchNestle.”

Clark says that, at the peak of the day, about 100 protesters took part in the action. Teams monitored the front and back entrances to the plant, holding signs that read “Water for people not profit” and “Wake up! We’re in a drought!” while preventing all trucks from entering. “And only two truckers got mad,” Clark said. Police observed the happenings, but there were no arrests.

The protesters accuse Nestlé of gross profiteering off of city-owned water. “They’re pumping water out of our local aquifer, between 50 million and 116 million gallons a year,” Clark said, “and they’re paying dirt-cheap prices, then turning around and selling it back to us at 1,000 percent profit.”

Currently, the corporation pays the city just under a dollar for every 750 gallons of water it pulls from Sacramento’s aquifers, according to city documents. That same amount of water is worth more than $1,500 on the shelves when sold as Nestlé’s Pure Life water brand (based on SN&R’s calculations).

Another way to look at it, activists say, is it makes tens of millions of dollars off of a few thousand bucks worth of tap water.

A Nestlé spokesperson told a local TV station that the company pays a competitive price. “We’re just an industrial water user like everyone else,” he said.

Mayor Kevin Johnson celebrated Nestlé’s arrival in 2009, but others immediately accused the company of turning public water into a private commodity. Now, Clark and others don’t just want Nestlé to pay a fair price: They want the company out of Sacramento for good.