In every bottle, a creek or two… (again)

January 20, 2022 § 4 Comments

Thanks to Ian James for getting the environmental cost of bottled water on the front page of the LA Times and giving a boost of visibility to the local protectors of this creek. Please keep in mind as you read the article that Strawberry Creek is not the only local creek being sold in plastic bottles on supermarket shelves for one company’s profit at the expense of the water supply of our local creeks and watersheds. There is a list of creeks on the label of every Arrowhead bottle sold.

I’ve been fascinated by how this list clarifies our relationship to nature. Nature isn’t simply what’s out there in some pristine separate world, but Nature is in a larger sense, how we have shaped the world we live in, including even our urban world and all the manufactured and refined products we surround ourselves with everyday. (Thanks, Jenny Price, for articulating this!)

Back to creeks. Of the two bottles shown in the photo below, one was purchased in Southern California, and the other was purchased in a location in Oregon that gets significantly more annual rainfall than Los Angeles. Yet the list of creeks listed as sources of water is exactly the same. They are all in Southern California. Is it not a little appalling that we are allowing companies to bottle the water produced by local precipitation falling on our local landscapes, while the LA Basin struggles to upkeep our local groundwater supplies? While we allow our local streams to be bottled for profit and shipped to other states that are wet by comparison, the accepted method of maintaining local groundwater supplies for public water supply in Los Angeles has come to be filling local aquifers with water taken from other streams that are hundreds of miles away.

This situation is not really optimum in terms of local water resiliency, energy use, biodiversity, or any other sustainability metric. But is this a wicked, unsolvable problem? Does the problem really seem that complicated?

For a long time, I’ve been meaning to write about Sparkletts. This company has historically been such a point of pride in Northeast Los Angeles, that one nearly forgets the flip side of the story, which is that the waters they sell in plastic bottles are waters that would otherwise be contributing to the base flow of the Los Angeles River.

Eagle Rock is a very rare community in the LA Basin, from a watershed point of view. The community sits atop its own water basin. The Eagle Rock community is (theoretically) positioned (physically positioned, at least) to be able manage its own groundwater levels in its own interest. However, there is only one entity that withdraws water from the Eagle Rock basin. That entity is Sparkletts.

So does Eagle Rock have any particular incentive to increase local groundwater levels? Because of Sparkletts’ rights, any efforts to increase groundwater infiltration in the community of Eagle Rock would not necessarily result in raising the water table, nor in contributing additional flow to a creek that is one of many tributaries to the LA River. Instead, any additional groundwater gained through infiltration would simply increase the amount of water supply available to Sparkletts to put into plastic bottles to sell.

The size of the Eagle Rock watershed is not large, so it’s likely that any spring water from NELA could only account for a very small volume of what the company produces overall. Watermaster reports show that generally, in recent years, just under 200 acre feet of water is extracted yearly. This is not a lot of water when compared to the amount of potable water cities consume or how much profit a large company generates. But it would be a significant amount of water for urban habitat restoration projects, such as is planned downstream at the LA River’s Taylor Yard. 

This is how I understand the issues, but I’m happy to hear any other perspectives on this, so your comments are welcome. Please share your own thoughts about streams and bottles below or on our facebook group.

§ 4 Responses to In every bottle, a creek or two… (again)

  • Really interesting information. Thanks for writing this.

  • David says:

    Sparklers has not used its spring in many years. They use tap water then formulate it to an exact copy of the spring water they no longer use. . This all occurred when the business was sold years ago.. You will notice they no longer call it spring water.

    • Jane Tsong says:

      Thanks for your comment, David. I have heard variations of this story. The size of the Eagle Rock watershed is not large, so I imagine that any spring water from NELA could only account for a very small volume of what the company produces overall. If you look at the Watermaster reports of which the most recent is for the 2017-18 Water Year, Table 2-14 shows a summary of extractions from Eagle Rock basin, with a more detailed report in Appendix A. The only user is DS Waters, who extracted 180 acre feet. So this would seem to suggest they are still bottling local water. On the Sparkletts website, Sparkletts spring water is still one of the many water products they sell, but I suppose there may be many ‘springs’ they use. I wish they would list the springs on their label like Arrowhead does! If you believe I’m misinterpreting this information, I’m very interested in knowing more!

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