- June 4, 2018
By Soren Bjorn, Cheri Chastain, Bruce Karas and Jerry Lynch
As major food and beverage producers investing in agriculture, our companies are ever mindful of our dependence on water. We believe that responsibly sharing water and protecting watersheds are key to our businesses.
We strive to use water wisely, conserve water where we can and help farmers in our supply chains be efficient with water and minimize fertilizer and pesticide runoff that could degrade watersheds.
As water supplies become scarce in certain regions as a result of a changing climate and increased demand from a growing population, the role companies play to help ensure sustainable water supplies is growing. In watershed areas around the world where our main ingredients are grown, we’re working to restore wetlands and tree growth so the health of those watersheds can be maintained or restored and the supply of safe, usable water enhanced.
Those regions include the vast San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast watersheds. Together those areas grow much of the nation’s supply of fruits, vegetables and nuts. Groundwater, of course, is vital to California communities and agricultural regions, so we are working with farmers and nonprofit organizations on projects to recharge groundwater and ensure future supply for all users.
But there’s another critical aspect to water security besides supply: it’s having clean drinking water. In some places, water may be flowing but it is not safe to drink.
In California, as many as 1 million people do not have access to safe drinking water from their faucets. The water is contaminated and has not been adequately treated before it reaches homes, according to a State Water Resources Board study. Most of these individuals live in areas served by small water districts. Some small water utilities cannot afford the costs of water treatment operations.
California is the fifth-largest economy of the world; we can solve this problem so nobody has to depend on unsafe water.
That is why our companies support an effort put forward by several California state legislators, Gov. Jerry Brown and supported by many in the agriculture, environmental and business communities that would help struggling water districts afford water treatment costs. The Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund being considered in legislation (Senate Bill 623), as well as in the governor’s budget as an alternative legislative path, would attach a nominal fee of less than the cost of a pack of chewing gum each month to household water bills and slightly more to business facilities like ours to help assure safe and affordable drinking water is available to everyone in California. The legislation also would have businesses within the agricultural sector pay into the fund through special fees. For pennies a day per household, pocket change for businesses and nominal fees for agricultural interests, the contributions would add up to approximately $140 million a year, a sum estimated to be what’s needed to help the roughly 300 small water districts currently unable to treat water to meet their obligations.
Growers in our supply chains, employees and customers may very well reside in the communities facing clean water shortages. These communities are important to us. So, one of our water goals is to help ensure availability of clean, safe drinking water. We know that our companies too can make an impact by taking action within our supply chains and operations. We also believe governments should lead by establishing proportionate and clear guidance and water policies within which our companies can operate and innovate to reach solutions. This policy proposal on safe drinking water is a clear example of doing so.
We’ve set water stewardship as a high business priority and we’re ready to act to help improve water access for every Californian. We urge legislators to advance the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund act that would help make clean water a reality for all who reside in this great state. We’re in this together.
Soren Bjorn is president of Driscoll’s of the Americas, Cheri Chastain is sustainability manager of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Bruce Karas is vice president of sustainability and environment with Coca-Cola North America and Jerry Lynch is chief sustainability officer for General Mills. The four authors are advisory committee members to the Ceres Connect the Drops campaign.