Going against the flow

It’s been two months since Nestlé Waters North America announced they plan to build a new bottling plant in Sacramento, where they’ll suck up millions of gallons of delicious Sacramento tap water every year, in order to sell it back to us in plastic at 1,000 times the price (see “Something in the water,” SN&R Bites, July 30).

Well, unlike some mayors that Bites knows, not everybody thinks this is such a great deal for Sacramento. Meet Kristie Harris, spokeswoman for Save Our Water, dedicated to, well, saving our water from corporate takeover. Or, barring that, she at least wants city leaders to ask some basic questions before selling out.

“Giving Nestlé access to unlimited amounts of our water in the third year of a drought is completely unacceptable. There’s been no public forum on this, no environmental impact report, no critical analysis at all.”

According to information that Bites got directly from Nestlé, the company is planning on using about 30 million gallons of city water every year. But Harris says the city utilities department shows the flow could be anywhere from 78 to 116 million gallons a year. That would also make Nestlé one of the top 10 water users in the city, somewhere between the amount of water used by Sacramento State and UC Davis Medical Center. The company would pay industrial water rates for what they use, about a dollar for every 750 gallons.

Just last month, the mayor of Flagstaff, Ariz., rejected a plan by a Nestlé subsidiary to pump, bottle and sell 55 million gallons of that city’s water. Mayor Sara Presler said at the time, “We need water for our citizens and that’s our priority.”

Apparently we have somewhat different priorities here in the River City, where Mayor Kevin Johnson welcomed Nestlé, saying, “This company will not only bring jobs to the city, but it’s also nice to have a reaffirmations that many firms still see Sacramento as such a desirable location.”

How did we get so lucky to be chosen by Nestlé? Well, it turns out that Nestlé got tired of public opposition to a scheme to take groundwater out just up the road from here, in McCloud, near Mount Shasta. So tired, in fact, that the company decided to look for easier pickings down south.

The McCloud plan was so controversial that Attorney General Jerry Brown threatened to sue Nestlé because of inadequate environmental review. And back on September 10, Nestlé CEO Kim Jeffery explained that McCloud wouldn’t have the water giant to kick around anymore, because “This summer we were able to secure a site for a new bottling facility in the Sacramento area to help supply our customers in Northern California.”

Here in Sacramento, it looks like Nestlé will find things much easier going; we’re just so pleased to be desirable.

But maybe Save Our Water will force the city to answer some tough questions before Nestlé gets permission to stick its giant straw into our water supply. Like how does this project fit in with Sacramento’s Sustainability Master Plan? Is there any limit on how much water Nestlé can take? Should the city be encouraging the bottled-water industry at all? Lots of government agencies are prohibiting the use of bottled water in public meetings.

During this month’s Second Saturday festivities, Harris said the group got about 50 passersby to call Mayor Johnson, right from their table, and leave a message opposing the project. You can sign their petition and get more information at www.saveourwatersacramento.org.

The group’s efforts have already gotten the attention of Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty, who has asked the city staff responsible for this project to come before the council and answer some questions.

Meanwhile, you can come ask questions at an informational meeting, being hosted by Save Our Water on Monday, September 28, at 6:30 p.m. The meeting is being held at 1812 J Street, Suite 16. That’s right near Streets of London, in case you are thirsty afterward.