Companies like Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola and MillerCoors need a reliable water supply to produce their product, which is why water management plays a vital role in their business plans.
As California enters its sixth year of drought, 20 organizations including these and other major corporations have formed a group that aims to advance water security in the state.
California Water Action Collaborative (CWAC) members include Ag Capital Management, Ag Innovations, Anheuser-Busch, Alliance for Water Stewardship, Campbell Soup Company, the CEO Water Mandate, Coca-Cola, Driscoll’s, Ecolab, Future 500, General Mills, MillerCoors, The National Forest Foundation, Nestlé, OLAM, Pacific Institute, Sustainable Conservation, Sustainable Food Lab, The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), along with farmers and local water districts.
The group has identified four initial projects that it will pursue.
Farmland Groundwater Recharge: Sustainable Conservation is leading this effort to boost San Joaquin Valley groundwater supplies. Extended drought has forced Central Valley farms and communities to turn to shrinking groundwater supplies and left a record amount of farmland idle. The project involves applying excess floodwater to active and fallowed farmland, and allows water to percolate down to refill aquifers. Companies involved in this project include Campbell Soup, General Mills, MillerCoors and Coca-Cola.
American River Headwaters: This project will test how landscape-scale restoration can improve watershed health and wildlife habitat, reduce the risk of megafires, and potentially increase water supply. The Nature Conservancy will conduct research on a 10,115-acre forested property in the Sierra Nevada to determine whether ecological thinning can measurably increase downstream water supply by allowing snowfall and rain to accumulate and replenish creeks and rivers. The effort is supported MillerCoors, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch.
Corporate Water Stewardship and the California Water Action Plan: The CEO Water Mandate and Pacific Institute are facilitating a statewide collaboration with CWAC members Nestlé, Ag Innovations, Olam, WWF and others to identify opportunities where the private sector can accelerate progress toward the goals of the California Water Action Plan, improving the measurement, management and stewardship of shared natural resources.
San Gabriel and Big Tujunga Watershed: In 2015, CWAC members Coca-Cola and MillerCoors began a partnership with the National Forest Foundation and the US Forest Service to help restore hundreds of millions of gallons of water annually to the damaged San Gabriel and Big Tujunga watershed. By removing 50 acres of a water-intensive invasive species called Arundo donax, or giant cane, the project is returning significant amounts of water to area streams.
The CWAC member companies say reducing water use within their operations isn’t enough, which is why they are looking to improve water security in the communities in which they operate.
“If you think about what we sell as a finished product, our no. 1 ingredient is water,” Coca-Cola chief sustainability officer Bea Perez said in an earlier interview. “It’s very important for us to be as efficient as possible with water and we also have to ensure we’re protecting the water source — quantity, quality and infrastructure — for the local communities in which we operate. That’s what allows us to be welcomed by the community and operate as a thriving business.”
In late August Coca-Cola said the company and its bottling partners have met their goal to replenish the equivalent amount of water used in their global sales volume back to nature and communities. They also improved water use efficiency by 2.5 percent from 2014 to 2015, adding to a cumulative 27 percent improvement since 2004.
MillerCoors has set a 2020 goal is to reduce its average water-to-beer ratio across all major breweries to 3.0:1.0, or three units of water for every one unit of beer produced. The second largest brewer in the US says there’s a business case for focusing water stewardship efforts within the brewery watersheds and beyond MillerCoors’ operations.
“We focus our water conservation efforts within our brewery watersheds where water was stressed or scarce because we depend on the high-quality water in these watersheds to brew our great beers,” MillerCoors director of sustainability Kim Marotta said in an earlier Q&A. “In addition, more than 90 percent of our water footprint takes place in our agricultural supply chain. We focus resources in this area to help conserve, improve and reduce water use and support greater watershed health for all stakeholders.”