Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Pope and Me: A Call to Act


Pope Francis and I have little in common. Yet there is one galvanizing idea that we both fundamentally and passionately share: access to clean drinking water is a basic human right and a key component in protecting human life and dignity.
The Pope addressing the Dialogue on Water gathering
"The right to water is essential for the survival of persons and decisive for the future of humanity," the Pope said during a meeting with 90 international experts participating in a "Dialogue on Water" at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in February, 2017. Looking at all the conflicts around the globe, Pope Francis said, "I ask myself if we are not moving toward a great world war over water." And he’s correct. In my book, Our World of Water I chronicle a small handful of instances, both in the U.S. and abroad about the growing tensions over water rights, from law suits to armed conflict. This, alas, is nothing new. I also briefly touch on how water has been used as a tool for war for more than six centuries.

Access to water is a basic and urgent matter, the Pope suggested. "Basic, because where there is water there is life, making it possible for societies to arise and advance. Urgent, because our common home needs to be protected." Citing statistics from the United Nations, the Pope said, "each day - each day! - a thousand children die from water-related illnesses and millions of persons consume polluted water." While the situation is urgent, it is not insurmountable, he said. "Our commitment to giving water its proper place calls for developing a culture of care -- that may sound poetic, but that is fine because creation is a poem." Scientists, business leaders, religious believers and politicians must work together to educate people on the need to protect water resources and to find more ways to ensure greater access to clean water "so that others can live," he said.

The Pope signs his pledge to the Dialogue on Water agreement
A lack of clean, safe drinking water "is a source of great suffering in our common home," the Pope said. "It also cries out for practical solutions capable of surmounting the selfish concerns that prevent everyone from exercising this fundamental right." It is staggering that, literally, one out of seven people on our planet does not have access to clean water on a daily basis! "We need to unite our voices in a single cause; then it will no longer be a case of hearing individual or isolated voices, but rather the plea of our brothers and sisters echoed in our own, and the cry of the earth for respect and responsible sharing in a treasure belonging to all," he said. If each person contributes, he said, "we will be helping to make our common home a more livable and fraternal place, where none are rejected or excluded, but all enjoy the goods needed to live and to grow in dignity." Take that as a challenge. We, you and me, can all do something to help, be that donating to viable water charities, to conserving water, writing letters to lawmakers supporting water rights, to using social media to raise awareness that, though many of us enjoy clean water without a second thought, many do not.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ideas That Suck - The Straw, and How to Degrade It

We set aside Earth Day so that, hopefully, we humans remember that we inhabit a living planet – a planet we pollute, abuse, disrespect and disfigure.

There are a number of ways we do this, and one of those is…straws. Seriously – how harmful can a straw be? As I was working on my book, Our World of Water, I wanted to understand the garbage patches that float in our oceans, so I contacted the National Oceanic andAtmospheric Administration (NOAA) a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere and spoke with Communications Specialist, Dianna Parker.

Briefly – the garbage patch is an area of marine debris concentration in the North Pacific Ocean. The name “garbage patch” has led many to believe that this is a large and continuous patch of marine debris such as bottles and other litter - akin to a literal blanket of trash that should be visible. “This is simply not true,” NOAA states. “A majority of the debris observed in the garbage patch is small plastic pieces; difficult to see due to their size, and many of these pieces may be suspended below the surface of the water. For these reasons, the debris, or “patch” is not visible with existing satellite technology.” And exactly what kind of plastic is floating in our oceans? Ms. Parker broke it down for me:

Polyethylene terephthalate - plastic beverage bottles.
Polyethylene - plastic bags.
PVC - plastic construction tubing.
Polypropylene - drinking straws.
Polyamide – toothbrushes.
Polystyrene – take out food containers we’ve all used.

So I want to focus on straws. I don’t use straws, personally, but many people do. Straws suck (pun intended) because they are on the above list and they are made of plastic that does not degrade.

“Marine debris is a global problem and the oceans are all interconnected,” NOAA’s Parker told me. “Increased recycling is certainly a great step toward sustainability and is part of improved waste management that could lead to less debris.” But stopping debris from entering our waters is nearly impossible. “Our goal with our monitoring project is for localities to note the trends in debris.” She stresses that it if trends can be diagnosed locally the causes of trash can be pinpointed more accurately and those trends might even be decreased because of targeted outreach to the public. After all, recycling and waste management upstream obviously has a tremendous impact on debris levels that are allowed to flow downstream to the oceans.

Certainly part of the solution is more aggressive recycling programs, but fundamentally it is continued outreach and education to the consumer: simply put, far too many people and businesses disrespect our natural environment and do not understand how our oceans are connected to our very own health.

Aardvark Straws
So I’m thrilled that we now have paper straws! A company called Aardvark makes these fun, durable, flex straws that will decompose in 45 to 60 days (I wanted to make sure their claim was valid so I checked on 3rd Party Certification with Cedar Grove). The Aardvark straws are available in more than 200 customizable designs and they are made of paper from sustainable and renewable tree farms, plus water soluble glue and inks, and are the only paper straws made in the U.S.A. Please note, I have no affiliation with Aardvark, I’m merely telling you ways you can love Mother Earth back. I received no money, no support, napa, zip, zero, bupkis.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, Xanterra Parks& Resorts “Choose To Be Straw-Free” initiative implementing an “offer first” policy (offer before you just give everyone a straw). All of Xanterra’s national park concessions in Crater Lake, Death Valley, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Zion now participate. “Consider that these little conveniences are made from oil, a nonrenewable resource,” Xanterra says. “Energy is used to extract the oil and manufacture the straws. Gas runs the trucks that deliver straws to consumers. That doesn’t even take into account the packaging around straws,” Xanterra says. That may not seem like much, but it’s a great start towards the health of our oceans and I applaud both Aardvark and Xanterra.

Let's keep fighting for healthy waters!
I am deeply concerned about the health of our planet, especially our oceans, rivers and streams, all our waterways. We need to be vigilant in protecting our planet. There is only one and she needs our help.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Water by Air: Does Shipping Water Make Any Sense?


Bottled water is problematic to ship – considering that a single gallon of water weighs eight pounds - be that across the city, or across the country or globe. So how do companies factor the expense of shipping costs while provide inexpensive, or free delivery?

The answers are relatively simple: volume, loyalty programs for points that can be used for future purchases, handling fees, higher costs on initial purchases, and membership fees help any company to defray expenditures on shipping. Both individual bottled water companies, mega-retail stores and shipping companies see the niche of shipping water, and a big part of that is convenience, and not requiring heavy water to be lugged from the store to your home. This is immensely helpful for senior citizens, single moms who are short on time, and consumers with disabilities for whom shopping is a chore. According to a 2016 survey by Deloitte, just 42% of consumers characterize 3-4 day shipping as "fast" whereas in 2015 it was “within 5 days,” and most people now expect 2-day shipping. In fact Wal-Mart started offering free two-day shipping in early 2017 on orders from an assortment of 2 million items for orders of $35 or more. That is down from the previous minimum threshold of $50. Money talks, but it seems time talks louder.

Shipping water for residential delivery by mail, delivery truck or freight is nothing new. In many cases it’s merely a retooling of the old Home Office Delivery (HOD) model, but with more choices of types of water, brands, sizes and frequency and convenience of delivery. For example, Alhambra Water delivers HOD with 5-gallon returnables or a 25 pound case of ½ liter bottles. Granted, their delivery is regional in California, but they have adapted to consumer demands; i.e. delivery with choices other than just their water; partnering with Voss, Fiji and Sparkletts for delivery as well. Let’s look at a few examples.

FIJI
Fiji ships only cases (12 bottles per case) so a 24-pack case of 500 ml sells for $29.50, however you get to choose shipment frequency between a 7-day and 90-day cycle, thus allowing repeat purchases. They do however offer one-time delivery as well, but it is subscription that is their most popular delivery plan; this pay-as-you-go option offers 20% off one-time rates and ships monthly, allowing the flexibility to increase or decrease case quantities as needed or pause and resume service without any penalties. It is the convenience to start and stop, order fewer or more cases, which attracts people.

Nestle
ReadyFresh is Nestlé’s delivery service for its entire Nestle Waters portfolio. So, a case (12 liter bottles) of Arrowhead will cost $14.99, but ReadyFresh allows you to choose one time delivery, or, frequency of delivery, saving money on shipping if delivery is consistent. For one-time deliveries a delivery fee of $6.95 is applied. For “rush” orders placed less than 24 hours before a delivery appointment, an additional $3 surcharge is added to the base delivery fee. Most recurring customers on Auto-Delivery are charged a $3.95 flat Delivery Fee, though in some markets it is higher; Manhattan customers pay a $5.95 Delivery Fee - Philadelphia and San Francisco pay a $4.95 Delivery Fee. Transport has always been a key consideration for Nestlé’s bottled water business model and they have built significant expertise due to their longstanding experience in supply chain management. As a result, their logistics and delivery programs are quite efficient. But no one it seems can compete with Amazon.

Amazon
Amazon ships any and all water, allowing for the most diverse selection of bottled water anywhere. Using Nestle Pure Life as an example, a 24 pack of 8 oz. bottled water is a mere $3.50, and Amazon Prime’s $99 annual fee means “free” shipping. Without free shipping Nestle bottled water 16.9 oz bottle for a case of 24 costs $7.50, plus $5.99 shipping. But that’s changing. Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimates that Amazon has 63 million Prime members as of 2016 and those customers are three times more likely to purchase more items than those who do not use Prime. According to Bloomberg, in 2014 Amazon launched Prime Now in New York, with couriers who drove cars, rode bikes, and took public transportation with carts loaded up with Amazon boxes for delivery. Prime Now offers more than 40 cities currently. The service’s most popular items? Bottled water and toilet paper.

Costco/Shipt
Costco signed a deal with Shipt  in early 2017 to deliver groceries to residences. Costco members do not have to use Shipt, a third-party shipping service, but it is available for all members. However, Costco has also raised its membership fees, presumably to compensate, at least in part, for Shipt’s $99 annual fee for delivery. Shipt also works with other grocery stores as their delivery service as well and dues vary. Shipt is not national, as of this writing, but they are planning on capturing a greater percentage of that market.

ReStockIt.com
This beverage supply company in Florida ships all types of bottled water; cans, glass, gallon, etc. For example Perrier 11 oz. glass, 24 count runs $27.95 with free shipping on orders over $149, but within the contiguous US only. However, they add “freight delivery” which in many cases is also listed, not as “shipping” but “handling,” so it behooves the consumer to be aware of all charges. For example, Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water, 16.9 oz. bottles, 35 Bottles per case, and 54 Cases per pallet – the total cost is $363.15, with free shipping. However “freight delivery” is $76.46, with a total end cost of $439.61.

Clearly the key is a scalable distribution network, aside from that, and the issue of volume sales, the niche market will undoubtedly sustain itself as consumers look for convenience, ease of purchases, and home delivery on demand.



Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Collapse of the St. Francis Dam: Killer Water


(NOTE: This is an excerpt. To read my full account of the St. Francis disaster - including Lake Hollywood, the sister to St. Francis located in Hollywood – I invite you to get a copy of my book, “Our World of Water.”)

St. Francis before its collapse. Colorized image.
At five minutes to midnight, on Thursday, March 12th, 1928, the towns of Santa Paula, Newhall, Piru and Fillmore, located in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, were sequestered from harm, residents asleep in their warm beds. Less than three minutes later, all hell would break loose and more than 600 people would be dead from the single worst engineering disaster of the 20th Century in the United States. Though it has become a footnote in California history, the St. Francis Dam disaster is a tragedy of unparalleled proportions. Why the dam was built and why it failed is a complex story of greed, vision, money, and dreams of the future. But fundamentally it’s about water.

William Mulholland. Photo Water & Power Assoc
When Los Angeles began to grow, William Mulholland, the chief engineer of the Department of Water and Power (DWP), envisioned Los Angeles as a utopia for millions of people. But Los Angeles would soon run out of the one thing that made its existence possible in the first place - water. So where does one find vast quantities of water when one lives in a semi-dessert environment? The Owens Valley is a rural farming community, 250 miles north of Los Angeles and it held massive amounts of water, fresh from the snow packs of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, which could provide the burgeoning metropolis with every drop it needed. Los Angeles began to surreptitiously buy water and land rights in the Owens Valley and, even today, L. A. is the largest landowner in the area.

In 1910 Mulholland designed and constructed an aqueduct 230 miles long, using gravity flow over mountains and across desserts, one of the great engineering achievements of the early 20th Century. Owens Valley farmers, angered at being lied to saw their water levels decrease dramatically. Many farmers were wiped out. I have been to Owens and it is an incredibly sad sight. What was once a fertile valley is a dry ghost town.

Mulholland believed that a series of dams and reservoirs, closer to L.A. would be the safe bet in case emergency water was needed. The 13 billion gallon capacity St. Francis Dam was constructed in a narrow canyon north of Santa Clarita near present day Magic Mountain. Since Los Angeles continued to grow much faster than anyone anticipated, when the Owens Valley began to run dry within a few years, L.A. secured water from Mono Lake, north of Owens Valley; then the Colorado River in Nevada; then the Feather River near Sacramento. It’s thirst was, and still is, insatiable.

After the failure.
Construction of the St. Francis began in April 1924. In July of that year, the original dam height of 184 feet was extended 10 vertical feet in order to expand its holding capacity. One year later another ten vertical feet was added. Raising the dam 20 feet allowed more storage capacity, but what was overlooked was widening its base to be commensurate with its new height. Known as “hydraulic uplift,” the base of the dam actually raised up slightly prior to its demise due to its inherent instability. Additionally the rock the dam was anchored to, a flaky metamorphic rock, was not fully understood by the engineers at the time, nor did they know the mountain was part of an ancient landslide and was also inherently unstable - it was becoming saturated with water.

Only the main section of the dam remained. Notice the two people, lower right
At 11:57 p.m., the St. Francis Dam collapsed. What was once a life-giving force turned into death itself and made worse when it merged with the Santa Clara River. The initial wall of water was 200 feet high. Of the 70 people that lived just below the dam, only three survived. By the time the water hit Castaic Junction, near present day Six Flags Magic Mountain off Interstate 5, the water was 75 feet high, and Santa Paula faced a torrent still 25 feet high with trees and broken houses acting like battering rams obliterating anything in its way. The path of destruction was 54 miles long. Five and a half hours after the dam collapsed, the water merged with the Pacific Ocean near Ventura Harbor.

600 people died, many of them Mexican farm workers living at camps located near the river. Poor immigrant workers don’t land on the front page of major newspapers, not in 1928. But they died - by the hundreds, cattle too. Livestock, cars, roads, power lines, bridges, rail track, farms, all were washed to the ocean or covered in a blanket of mud, debris and wreckage nearly 30 feet thick. Some bodies were found weeks later in isolated canyons along the Santa Clara River. There were bodies recovered 200 miles away near San Diego, and some bodies have never been found. Men, women and children were obliterated in the middle of the night, in their beds. Some fought the torrent of water, only to drown or be crushed by the fast moving debris. Perhaps mercifully so, some families died instantaneously, family pets being the only survivors; mute witnesses to the unthinkable. 

The numbers are staggering: 1,200 homes demolished, 24,000 acres of fertile land destroyed, 11,000 acres of crops laid waste, 140,000 trees uprooted or badly damaged. 3,000 volunteers searched for bodies.
After inquires and reports, dam safety legislation changed. Prior to the St. Francis, there was little dam construction oversight. Two days after St. Francis failed the federal government required all dams to be inspected. California mandated professional registration for engineers, soil compaction tests and a greater understanding of hydraulic uplift, which became the model for the rest of the country, but this was a painful lesson.

Catherine Mulholland
I interviewed Catherine Mulholland, granddaughter of William Mulholland who built the St. Francis, shortly before her death. Her words were profound and have resonated with me to this day, and sum up water and power. “By now we know that Homo sapiens have plundered the earth. We've dislodged, displaced and removed forests and oceans. We've flourished and also suffered. When you move water, things get destroyed in the process."


WATCH my short video on location at the St. Francis Dam site:

Portions of the dam still exist today: this piece being part of the front face of the dam.






Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sweet Talk – How Do You Talk To Your Water?


As we all know, water is a physical element, but it also spiritual. Dr. Masaru Emoto writes in his book, The Hidden Messages in Water: “We start out life being 99% water as fetuses. When we are born we are 90% water and by the time we reach adulthood we are down to 70%. If we die of old age we will probably be about 50% water. In other words, throughout our lives we exist in water.” His groundbreaking work, chronicling water crystals was a discovery about water and how we as humans relate to water. You may not agree or believe in what he does, frankly I’m on the fence, but take a moment to ponder this.



With Dr. Emoto in Honolulu






His photographs of water crystals were originally featured in his book, The Hidden Messages in Water, and first published in Japan with over 400,000 copies sold internationally. What has put Dr. Emoto at the forefront of the study of water is his belief that thoughts and feelings affect physical reality. By producing different focused intentions through written and spoken words and music and literally presenting it to the water, the water appears to “change its expression,” he says. He developed a technique using a very powerful microscope in a very cold room along with high-speed photography to photograph newly formed crystals of frozen water samples. Dr. Emoto discovered that crystals formed in frozen water reveal changes when specific, concentrated thoughts are directed toward them be those positive or negative. He found that water from clear springs and water that has been exposed to loving words shows brilliant, complex, and colorful snowflake patterns. In contrast, polluted water, or water exposed to negative thoughts, forms incomplete, asymmetrical patterns with dull colors. Many people do not believe Dr. Emoto’s claims since his findings cannot be exactly reproduced – each crystal is unique and different. Is it true? Can sending positive messages to our water make it better, actually more healing, imbued with a spiritual nature?

In October 2012 I was in Honolulu where Dr. Emoto led a group of people to the Ala Wai canal, long considered one of the most unclean canals in the city. We stood on the banks and Dr. Emoto lead a prayer as a group of diverse individuals said aloud repeatedly, “We love you water, we praise you water, we thank you water.” Can this exercise actually affect the life and health of this canal? I don’t know. And sure, I felt somewhat foolish overlooking a placid body of water assuming something might happen - that a ripple would occur over the glassy surface as if some sign might convince me that, truly, we were having an impact on water, and by extension the residents of Honolulu. But the water didn’t move. There was no flash of sunlight piercing the water’s surface, reflecting a sign. There was no flight of birds that alighted on the canal. Nothing happened. But that doesn’t mean we cannot have an impact on our world of water. Should you spend time thanking a canal, a stream near your house, the ocean as it crashes on the shore, your watershed in your city? I’m guessing that you won’t be doing that. But if we, even a little bit, think about water, and are grateful for what it provides in our lives, literally life itself, then maybe something might change, in our water, and in ourselves. As Dr. Emoto told me, “Water is the messenger of God.” 


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Going Global: Bottled Water Awards in Prague


Overlooking the historic and stunningly beautiful city of Prague in the Czech Republic, the 13th Annual Global Bottled Water Congress and Awards, held in October, were flush with new bottled waters, new concepts and innovation. As professional water judge I was thrilled to be asked to be a judge at this years event.

The city view of Prague from the Congress




I have been a water judge at the Berkeley Springs International WaterTasting for a decade, so when the organizer of the Prague event, Zenith Global Ltd. based in Bath England, asked if I would consider being a judge, I did not hesitate. I judged entries in multiple categories including taste, package design, brand innovation, new closure technology (bottle caps), and even social media campaigns. There were 100 entries from 25 countries including places you would expect like the US, Europe, Australia, and the Czech Republic itself, but also lesser-known places like Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Oman and Morocco – proof that bottled water is truly global.

With Nick Crossland (L) of Zenith at the Awards
In spite of criticism about bottled water, sales are up across the globe with predicted growth between 7-9%, according to Zenith. You may not think too much about water, but it is nonetheless a fascinating liquid and what is often overlooked is that the water we drink has within it the residual fingerprint of where it came from. Water from Russia is vastly different than water from Chile, or North Dakota. The hydro-geologic process ensures that pure waters consumed or bottled at their source retain the specifics of the rock, sand, limestone, granite, volcanic compounds, and everything else the water filters through, making that water truly unique.

One of the many vendors who attend
Not all bottled water is from a naturally occurring source of course; some is municipal water that has been re-treated and packaged for sale. Regardless, according to data compiled by Zenith from 2011 to 2016 consumption of bottled water was up 100 billion liters globally outpacing tea, milk and coffee. The awards certainly help to provide support for their market share as in the taste category as Lofoten Water from Norway was the winner for Best Natural Water Taste. Best Flavored Water Taste went to Mattoni Magnesia Red from Karlovarské Minerální Vody based in the Czech Republic.

But the Congress was not just awards, it was also a place for thought provoking discussion. Questions were brought up that, given the current state of the migration crisis in Europe does that help or hurt sales of bottled water? It’s easy to forget that as migrants flee war-torn areas, one of the basics they need is water. And where do they get water as they are constantly on the move? The eventual promise of financially active migrants, once situated into their new homes in a new country, could provide many future opportunities for bottled water companies. Another interesting take on the Congress was series of immediate polls conducted live with the attendees. One such poll asked what was more important about bottled water; healthy hydration, water source, taste, or promoting a lack of chemical compounds in water? Surprisingly 75% of attendees said “healthy hydration” was the most important message, even over taste. As a writer who covers water, a water judge, wine and spirits judge and food writer for 10 years, taste is of the utmost importance to me, but alas, not to everyone.

The dramatic and historic Charles Bridge
Another poll posited what was the greatest threat to the bottled water industry? Answers included waste and litter, access to natural water sources, comprehensive recycling and the like. But surprisingly 27% of respondents, a slim majority, said the constant media criticism about the bottled water industry was the biggest concern and threat to the industry overall. Yet in spite of a prevalent media bias (you can see a glaring example of this in my response to a Washington Post article HERE), consumers make the irrefutable verdict with their wallets, and this is why sales of bottled water are still on the rise regardless of an unfriendly media. Our global population will always need bottled water drawn from safe and secure sources, and the Global Bottled Water Congress provides a chance for bottled water to get the recognition and respect it deserves.




Monday, September 26, 2016

Arrowhead Water: Of Mountains, Indians & Helicoptors


Erected in the 1920s, this Indian pointed the way to the waters and resort
In the Western U.S. if you drink bottled water it’s very likely Arrowhead. Though labeled as Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water, few people realize that there is an actual Arrowhead Mountain from whence the water flows, and yes, it is actually mountain spring water. I was asked to visit the Arrowhead bottled water facility in Ontario, California, and see first hand one of the spring sites perched high atop the mountain.

To set the stage: Arrowhead water is 122 years old as of 2016, though the water emanating from the mountain has been around much longer, obviously. 1810 was the first known mention of the Arrowhead thermal springs by Spanish Padres, who called it Agua Caliente. The thermal springs soon attracted the attention of developers and the site was commercially developed in 1864, originally as a small wooden structure that offered bathing in the thermal waters, and by the 1890s a proper three-story hotel was built which morphed into a health resort. 
Early  Arrowhead water packs
Common at the time, water-based health resorts and sanitariums capitalized on “taking the waters,” including drinking plenty of mineral water straight from the source, and daily baths in the water. Of course it didn't hurt the marketing campaign that there were Indian legends about Arrowhead; that Spanish priests utilized the water, and that a clearly defined arrowhead was, and is still, on the mountainside pointing to the water. The resort was one of the elite places for Hollywood celebs to escape to in the 1920s and 1930s. Humphrey Bogart, Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball and many others hung out at the hotel. Today this is all private property with no public access, though the new owners of the resort might be giving tours of the palatial old hotel…someday.

The springs are at various points in the mountain, though the thermal springs still flow at the base of the mountain down by the hotel. Clearly visible from the city of Ontario and even more visible from the helicopter ride up, the arrowhead on the mountain is actually de-composing granite. I visited Tunnel #2, located at 5,400 feet up the mountain and the only way to access it was via helicopter. I landed on a small patch of dirt and made my way though thick underbrush down to the site, a staggeringly uninteresting grey door with three locks on it and a stainless steel pipe coming from the site. There are multiple access doors like this on the mountain and provide security as, once inside the door it’s about 60 feet into the mountain where the water is captured. The water is drawn into a pipeline made of food grade stainless steel and snakes its way 17 miles down to the base of the mountain where it is loaded onto trucks and taken to the nearby facility for bottling.

One of the tunnel doors. You can see the seepage of water below the door
"This is a fractured-granite spring," says Larry Lawrence, Natural Resource Manager for Arrowhead who accompanied me to the site. As is clearly evident from the mountain, the various sizes of granite around us, from small chunks the size of your hand to monolithic portions, demonstrate the natural minerals from the rock that the water picks up as it makes its way through the mountain. Protecting a water source is crucial and in addition to the locking doors, each with a rotating system of locks, each Arrowhead spring site is monitored for VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the air. It’s less about human intervention – it’s near impossible for anyone to get to the sites – but for animal intrusion and air pollution levels.

Standing at tunnel #2
Back down on terra firma I toured the Arrowhead plant which, when first built, was the largest bottled water plant in the U.S. What’s amazing about most bottled water plants is the complexity of the operation, something the vast majority of people never see. Sure, it seems simple - put water into a bottle, sell it and you’re done. But the UV treatment, packaging, preform molding of the bottles, transportation, testing and shipping of the whole thing runs seamlessly with high tech equipment operating at near breakneck speed and pinpoint precision. Surprisingly there are 200 quality checks daily at this plant. “It's not that people don't believe it, it's that they just don't think about water going through that many tests,” Lawrence tells me. “You turn on the tap and water comes out - no one thinks about exactly how water gets to you.” Behind a glassed office one tech was testing multiple samples of water, decked out in gloves, mask and headgear so as to keep the room sanitized. The Arrowhead plant was built to be self-sufficient - once bottled the product is placed directly onto a truck and off it goes.

View from the helicopter: You can clearly see the arrowhead on the mountain, and the resort in the lower left
Near the plant is an R-PET facility, producing high quality recycled PET plastic pellets for Arrowhead, who in turn make those pellets into bottles. Millions of cases are produced at this facility and that means a lot of bottles. "We tend to be at about a 95% recycle rate across our supply chain," says Lawrence. Parent company Nestle has long supported extended producer responsibility (EPR) and feels that should apply to consumer packaging like bottled water. Recycling Reinvented, co-founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Nestlé Waters North America, promotes state EPR legislation, which would shift the costs to recycle packaging from taxpayers to producers. In essence, Arrowhead is willing to assume the financial aspect of recycling costs, though in truth, we all need to be responsible with recycling. Additionally, Arrowhead is a leading water donator; having given bottled water to over 300 organizations, and has donated 1.6 million bottles of water in the San Bernardino area alone. So the next time you see Arrowhead, you’ll have a more full understanding of the water.