Nestlé effort aims to minimize effects of California drought

Nov 2, 2016

FILE: Text In this July 13, 2015 file photo, former U.S. Forest Service employee Gary Earney listens to the water flowing through Nestlé Waters North America's  water pipeline installed in the San Bernardino National Forest, Calif.

STAMFORD — As California grapples with a long and severe drought, Stamford-based Nestlé Waters North America and its parent company have teamed up with some 20 other organizations to found the California Water Action Collaborative to support projects aimed at tackling the crisis.

“Water stewardship is an incredibly important area of focus for all of Nestlé,” said Nelson Switzer, Nestlé Waters’ chief sustainability officer. “That commitment filters through to all of our businesses and probably no more so than to Nestlé Waters. This is our principal resource and product.”

The new consortium also includes environmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund; food and beverage companies such as Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors and The Coca-Cola Co.; as well as farmers and local water districts. CWAC’s members have already launched four major projects to improve the state’s water security.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought state of emergency in January 2014. Snowpack, through runoff, provides about one-third of the water used by California's cities and farms. The state’s Department of Water Resources measured the statewide snowpack at 87 percent of the normal total for March 30. But the statewide snow water equivalent amounted to only 6 percent of the average for June 13.

“Water in California is ground zero for considering how we will meet the needs of people, business and nature in a crowded world and in dry times,” Brian Stranko, The Nature Conservancy’s California Water Program director, said in a statement. “CWAC provides a forum for the industry, nonprofits and leading thinkers to take a big-picture view of how we achieve a sustainable water future, as well as a conduit for testing ideas in real places on the ground right now to inform that future.”

Among the new programs, Nestlé is supporting American River Headwaters, in which The Nature Conservancy is researching at an approximately 10,000 acre forested property in the Sierra Nevada the extent to which ecological thinning could increase downstream water supply by allowing snowfall and rain to accumulate and refill creeks and rivers.

Nestlé is also working with The CEO Water Mandate, Pacific Institute, Ag Innovations, Olam, WWF and other organizations to determine how the private sector can contribute to the goals of the California Water Action Plan, to improve the measurement, management and stewardship of natural resources.

Nestlé Waters officials declined to comment on how much money their business is spending on the CWAC initiatives.

For years, responsible and sustainable water management has comprised a top objective for Nestlé Waters, Switzer said. The company manages almost 50 springs in North America, including a dozen in California.

In recent years, the company has made capital investments that it said would save some 55 million gallons of water each year in California. Nestlé Waters is also working to save 63 million gallons annually by turning its evaporated milk factory in Modesto, Calif., into a “zero water” factory, by recycling the water extracted from the milk and re-using it in operations. The factory used 78.5 million gallons last year.

Nestlé Waters uses an average of 1.35 gallons for every gallon of water that it produces, according to company data. In comparison, The Coca-Cola Co. reported that it used in 2015 about twice as much water as it produced of its products.

CWAC’s projects would evolve and new projects would emerge, as the consortium’s membership grows and as California’s water challenges change, said officials of the member organizations.

“I think it can have an enormous impact if people don’t just rely on CWAC, but look to CWAC as something that can be replicated to address this problem,” Switzer said. “I think the message is the importance of collaboration to achieve these goals.”

Reprinted with permission. As seen in the Stamford Advocate.