Starbucks acquired the Ethos water brand 10 years ago. According to Starbucks
, "Ethos® Water was created to help raise awareness" about water access and works to "provide children with access to clean water." For every bottle you buy, Starbucks chips a nickel into the Ethos Water Fund and so far, the company claims over $12 million has gone toward fighting the water crisis in Tanzania, Colombia, Nicaragua, Indonesia and Guatemala.
While their charitable contributions to the global water crisis should be applauded, there's just one problem—like Nestlé, Starbucks water is being bottled out of California during a drought that is one of the worst on the state's record.
The bottling plant that Starbucks uses for its Ethos customers in the western United States is located in Merced, California, which is currently ranked in the "exceptional drought" category by the US Drought Monitor. Its residents face steep water cuts in their homes, and surface water for the region's many farms is drying up. [...]
The Starbucks water bottled at the plant comes from private springs in Baxter, a small unincorporated community in Placer County, a few hours north of Merced in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The spring water comes free of charge—in California, water companies typically don't have to pay for the groundwater they use.
Meanwhile, residents of Merced county are urged to curtail their water use
As our most precious resource, Californians cannot afford to take water for granted. There are solutions being worked on at the State and local levels to improve conservation while being cognizant of the need for adequate water access for agriculture and other essential purposes. As those plans are being implemented, Merced County is employing strategies and procedures that will help to save water immediately.
Residents can conserve a significant amount of water every day by:
*Running washing machines and dishwashers only when full
*Installing aerators on faucets and using low-flow shower heads to cut down on excess water flow
*Checking toilets, faucets and valves for any leaks
*Turning sprinklers off in the winter. Moderately water in the warm months at night
*Shutting off water while brushing teeth or shaving
*Taking shorter showers and avoid baths, which can use up to 70 gallons of water
Ethos water, while supposedly pumped from a private source, still has implications on the surrounding communities' water supply
When I asked a Starbucks spokesman about the company's reaction to concerns about bottlers' use of increasingly scarce water, he told me that Starbucks uses "a private spring source that is not used for municipal water for any communities." But Mary Scruggs, a supervising engineering geologist with California's Department of Water Resources, notes that communities can be affected by the use of surrounding springs "if you capture and pull it out before it ever makes it" to downstream users.
And it isn't just the water that goes into the bottle that's an issue.
In addition to the spring water it bottles, Starbucks also uses Merced city water to manufacture its bottled water product. A report commissioned by the International Bottled Water Association found that it takes on average 1.32 liters of water to make a liter of bottled water, though critics argue that it can take several times more than that once all the packaging is accounted for.
In March, Merced County passed an ordinance that will place new permitting restrictions on some groundwater use, though whether this will affect the Starbucks bottling plant remains to be seen.
At a time when the governor has declared a state of emergency over the California drought, a time when citizens are urged to do everything possible to reduce water use, maybe we should also be looking to these companies pumping water out of our springs and national forests at no charge.
We could begin with actually tracking that data—because for the time being, the state of California has no idea how much water these bottling plants all over the state are actually using.
However, the water board says it doesn’t regulate water bottling operations. Legislation to regulate groundwater usage won’t take effect for a couple of years.
Nestle has five water bottling plants in California, but the company is one of about 100 bottling plants across the state. The water board does not track how much water any of them use.
This handy graphic from Huffington Post kind of says it all: