Sacramento’s top 20 big water users

Which entities use most of Sacramento’s limited water supply?

SN&R’s top-20 water users list was gleaned from water-meter data provided by the city’s Utility Department for the years 2008 and 2010—data from 2009 was not available.

Of the 48 billion gallons of water produced by the city of Sacramento’s treatment plants and wells last year, the vast majority was used at private residences. But there are plenty of big water users out there whose thirst is mind-boggling. It’s not exactly fair to call them all water hogs—most try to use water efficiently. But, as you can see, they nonetheless leave a dent in our limited water supply.

1. City of Sacramento

By far the biggest user in the city of Sacramento is the city of Sacramento itself. In fact, the city’s operations used 1.2 billion gallons in 2010. (To use a common method of comparison, that’s about 1,800 Olympic swimming pools’ worth of water.) The wet stuff is used for government buildings, public water fountains, watering grass in parks and the like. Especially for watering grass in parks.

The city has 1,045 water meters for hundreds of parcels of property around town and pays about $1.7 million for all of that H2O. Of these, the single biggest water hog is the 160-acre William Land Park, which sucked up about 92 million gallons of water in 2010. That’s about 8 percent of the city’s overall water bill.

Luckily, the overall water use in the city is down; even Land Park is using a bit less water than it did two years ago (the park used 110 million gallons in 2008). Jessica Hess, spokeswoman at the city Department of Utilities says that’s partly because of the city’s new watering rules, passed in 2009 (see “Tiers go by,” SN&R sidebar, page 20). It’s also true that last summer was a bit cooler than usual, which may have helped conserve water. And it helps that a massive underground leak under Tahoe Park was fixed. In 2008, Tahoe Park used some 99 million gallons of water. In 2010, it hadn’t even used enough water to make it into the top 25 users in town.

2. Sacramento City Unified School District

With 90 campuses, 70,000 students and 6,000 employees, it’s not surprising that SCUSD would be one of the largest water users in the city. In all, SCUSD soaked up about 331 million gallons in 2010. Compare that to 348 million gallons used in 2008.

3 & 4. Sacramento Cogeneration Authority and Sacramento Power Authority

These are natural-gas power plants, run cooperatively by SMUD, the Campbell Soup Company (where the Power Authority project is located) and Procter & Gamble (where the Cogeneration Authority project is housed).

The facility at Procter & Gamble used about 293 million gallons of water last year. The Sacramento Power Authority plant used about 228 million gallons.

Each plant has a natural-gas fired turbine and a steam turbine. And most of the water at each facility is used to cool the steam and turn it back into water—which is circulated several times through the system before it goes down the drain.

Some of the steam is also piped off for use in the various parts of the manufacturing process at each plant.

5. State of California

By now, you get the idea, the largest water users in any city are likely to be government itself, with all its parks and schools and public buildings. And since Sacramento is a government town, the state of California has its place at the trough.

The state bought about 208 million gallons of water from Sacramento in 2010. The biggest meter reading for the state was 39 million gallons used at 625 Q Street. That’s the state’s central plant, which pumps heating and cooling to 23 state buildings in the area.

6. Sacramento County

Next on the list is Sacramento County—with 33 individual water meters in the city limits and 160 million gallons of water used. But the Sacramento County Main Jail at 651 I Street is the third largest water-using parcel in the city. The jail slurped up about 119 million gallons in 2010. Since the jail has been at maximum capacity for a while, water use hasn’t changed much over the last couple of years.

7. 7Up

Here is where the bottlers start to appear, and they are by and large the biggest commercial water users. And the thirstiest bottler is the 7Up Bottling Company at 2670 Land Avenue. 7Up used about 87 million gallons of water in 2010.

According to Chris Barnes, spokesman for the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which owns the plant, a facility like the one in Sacramento typically uses 2.26 gallons of water for every gallon of finished product. Barnes added that his company last year launched an effort to cut its water use by 10 percent by the 2015.

There’s been some discussion in Sacramento of charging higher rates to water bottlers and other big users. But the city Department of Utilities has asked the city council to hold off. (See “Tiers go by,” SN&R sidebar, page 20, for more on that.)

8. Natomas Unified School District

The district comes in at No. 8 at 72 million gallons of water used. The biggest meter reading is 4600 Blackrock Drive, which is the address for Natomas Charter School, which used 54 million gallons. That means this school uses more water than all of the other schools in the Natomas school district combined. That didn’t sound right to us. But when we inquired at the Natomas Unified superintendent’s office, they told us they didn’t know anything about the weird numbers, and that the charter school

was independent and responsible for its own water meter. Calls and emails to the Natomas Charter School executive director went unreturned.

9. California State University, Sacramento

Sacramento State used about 69 million gallons of water in 2010. Not too shocking that Sac State would be a big institutional water user. But the campus saw its water use drop significantly from 2008, when it used 84 million gallons.

10. UC Davis Medical Center

No surprise that UC Davis Medical Center (on Second Avenue) comes in at 67 million gallons, or that the several other hospitals in Sacramento use an awful lot of water (see No. 12, 14 and 20). The good news is that UC Davis, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health and Mercy all saw their water usage drop between 2008 and 2010.

11. HP Hood LLC

This Sacramento plant runs a “fluid dairy operation” at its Belvedere Avenue location and used 67 million gallons of water in 2010. The plant makes “extended shelf life” products, like coffee creamers, and even some licensed products, like Yoo-hoo drinks—and the water is used in the products and in the production. There’s a lot of cleanup involved in a dairy plant. Hood spokeswoman Lynne Bohan said, “We are actively looking for ways to monitor and reduce our water usage. We’re very sensitive to that.”

12. UCD Medical Center’s Stockton Boulevard facility

This one enters the list with 64 million gallons used.

13. Hinckley Springs

This is one of those companies that sells the big blue bottles which are delivered to fill your office water cooler. Just judging by the name, it could be a mom-and-pop business. But start looking for a phone number for the Sacramento plant, and you end up leaving unreturned messages at the corporate headquarters of DS Waters of America, which owns Hinckley Springs, as well as Alhambra, Crystal Springs and a bunch of other regional brands. Sacramento is just one of 29 plants around the country.

The company used 54 million gallons of local water in 2010, compared to a little more than 51 million in 2008. So what makes the Hinckley Springs water better than tap water with a filter? Don’t know—the corporate office in Atlanta never called us back.

14. Kaiser Permanente

Another hospital, with multiple locations, enters the list, this time with 52 million gallons used.

15. Sacramento Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

The bottling company on Stockton Boulevard used 51.339 million gallons of water in 2010, down by about 4 million gallons compared to 2008.

16. Procter & Gamble

P&G saw its water use drop by 20 percent compared to 2008 from 60 million gallons to 50 million gallons in 2010. Not bad.

17. Hines U.S. Office Value Added Fund II

Part of a multinational real-estate investment and real-estate management company—with properties across Europe, Asia and the United States—Hines VAF II pays water bills for 14 water meters here in Sacramento. Most of these are downtown office buildings, like the 1515 S Street building, which houses the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. As with most water users on the list, Hines VAF saw its water usage drop in the last two years, down from 62 million gallons in 2008 to 50 million gallons.

18. Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency

The local housing authority manages about 2,100 housing units, mostly apartments, inside the Sacramento city limits. Those apartment dwellers, along with the landscaping for many of the housing developments—used about 49.5 million gallons of water last year. But in 2008, SHRA was listed as using a whopping 174 million gallons. SHRA assistant director Nick Chhotu says that a chunk of that savings may be because the agency has made a concerted effort to save water, including installing low-flow toilets and water-saving sprinklers. “We’ve really been on a campaign to green our public housing developments,” said Chhotu. The drop in water uses may also be partly explained by the fact that SHRA has shed some property from its rolls in recent years—including four high-rise buildings that are currently unoccupied or have been sold.

19. Depot Park

This water meter is listed in the city’s records at the California Emergency Foodlink—the food bank for Sacramento County. They were surprised to learn they used 49 million gallons of water last year.

As it turns out, that number is the meter reading for all of Depot Park—the old Army base turned office park which includes, along with Foodlink and the California Department of Motor Vehicles, 75 tenants and 3,000 employees spread over 3 million square feet.

Site manager John Barney boasts that Depot Park “has been green since way before the mayor was elected.” The park uses drought-resistant landscaping and low-flow toilets and other fixtures. “Water is precious, and we don’t want to waste any. But you’ve still got to flush toilets,” said Barney.

20. Mercy General Hospital

Yet another big hospital with a big water bill. Mercy used 44 million gallons in 2010.

Honorable mention: Nestlé Waters North America

If measured by individual parcel, Nestlé’s 34 million gallons of water used would actually land it at about 21st on the list. Because the company was not yet operating full tilt at the start of 2010, we expect to see that number go up in next year’s data.

According to Nestlé, the plant uses about 1.3 gallons of water for every gallon of water it bottles. Thirty percent loss sounds sloppy, but the company says much more water is used in the production of soda and other beverages.

If nothing else, the international water bottler’s entry into the Sacramento market has started a discussion about how the city charges—or doesn’t charge—large water users.

This story has been corrected from its original print version.