Bottled Water Company Eyes San Antonio

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Niagara bottled water. Courtesy photo.

Niagara bottled water. Courtesy photo.

In one of the first signs that San Antonio will soon be a water broker with more inventory than this fast-growing city needs in the near-term, a California bottled water company is considering a new plant here.

Niagara Bottling of Ontario, CA., a Los Angeles suburb, is considering expansion to San Antonio or Jackson, Mississippi and possibly one other southeastern U.S. city, the source said. Brooks City Base would be the likely site if San Antonio is selected, and if SAWS  and the City agree to a deal.

A new bottled water plant would produce only 75-100 hourly wage jobs, but would provide SAWS with a major new commercial customer at a time when the water utility is in the market for partners to share the annual purchasing costs of the 50,000 acre-feet that will be delivered from Burleson County starting in 2019 or 2020 via the Vista Ridge water purchase and pipeline deal

Niagara, despite its name, is a West Coast company that purifies water by removing lime and other mineral deposits, as well as fluoride from water, and then bottles it for sale at a price point that is many times over the cost of the same water delivered by tap. Some of its products include additives, such as vitamins, to enhance consumer appeal.

H-E-B is among Niagara's many national customers for its privately labeled bottled water. The company's products include bottled water, sparkling water, vitamin-infused water and sports drinks, one local source said. H-E-B's Hill Country Fare bottled water comes from Niagara's California bottling operations, a source said. If Niagara establishes operations here, H-E-B bottled water would be sourced locally from SAWS.

There are no estimates of how much guaranteed water Niagara would demand in return for establishing operations here, but one source said the company would become one of SAWS' biggest commercial customers if the water utility agreed to make that volume of water available. Whether SAWs has the discretion of who it will serve or not serve is an untested question, although in the past, the water utility has fought efforts by individual entities to pump unlimited supplies of water for commercial profit.

For the water utility, Niagara represents both an economic development opportunity and an environmental challenge. SAWS famously serves Edwards Aquifer water at its own headquarters rather than bottled water in disposable plastic bottles, and initiatives at both City Hall and the San Antonio Independent School District have been made to eliminate bottled water served to officeholders during official meetings. For a water utility that rightfully prides itself on its national reputation for water conservation and management, some inside and outside SAWs are asking whether a bottled water company is the best use of an abundant water supply in a region subject to cyclical droughts and water shortages.

The prospect of Niagara setting up operations here will undoubtedly surface Wednesday evening at the "Conversation About Water" forum, free and open to the public, at the UTSA Downtown Campus  Wednesday, 6-7:30 p.m. in the Buena Vista Theater at the Downtown Campus. Panelists include SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente, City Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8), UTSA College of Public Policy Associate Dean and Associate Professor Francine Romero, and San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez. I will serve as moderator.


*Featured/top image: Niagara bottled water. Courtesy photo..


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27 thoughts on “Bottled Water Company Eyes San Antonio

  1. I don’t think this is a good fit for our water-strapped region. For just 70 jobs to boot. EDC and SAWS should think twice and pass on this one.

  2. There are groundwater problems all over the Texas Hill Country — look at Hays County right now!! San Antonio is better than this.

  3. I wish I could find the photos my dad took of the Artesia Water drilling operation at Walzem Rd and I-35. Workers capping a geyser of water in a sea of muck next to the tracks. Across from Sonic. Yum. Clean fresh water. Sometime in the early 70s…..

  4. There is a giant mass out by Bikini Atoll that tells us that plastic waste is a bad thing. I like economic activity and I loved Eagle Ford for a while but now that oil prices are down and we’ve taken our money I think we should get back on the environment bandwagon and do what’s right.

  5. No! “Abundant?” Since when? Bottled water is abominable; we need to reduce it,, not invcrease it. This is still a semi-arid area…water is NOT abundant!

  6. This is a terrible idea . Bottled water is not good for any community, is bad for the environment, and as an irresponsible use of our precious water resources. Saws water tap water is perfectly safe to drink and there is absolutely not a single reason to drink bottled water ever. America has been sold a bill of goods by Nestle and other mega-corporations.

  7. Bob, this is a timely note, given the discussion you will be moderating tonight. I hope an opportunity arises to discuss the merits of this case as it speaks much more broadly to our approach to water security in general and Vista Ridge in particular. An earlier version of this post had a quote from another water bottler here in San Antonio, who opined that Niagra’s bottom line is to go where water is “cheap” (which I believe was the term he used). We also know they want to go where the supply is secure. Vista Ridge puts SAWS in the position of wanting to sell “excess” water for several decades yet. That “excess” comes at a very high price to SAWS current customers…4 or 5 times the cost of Edward’s water. I am assuming that Niagara is looking at San Antonio and SAWS because of the Vista Ridge water providing the “security” and hoping to benefit from “cheap” through accessing that water not at the $2,200/ac-ft price of the Vista Ridge water but at probably one-third or less that cost by buying it once it enters the SAWS system and has its costs “diluted” by the far cheaper Edwards water. As a SAWS ratepayer on the hook for Vista Ridge, I personally don’t fancy subsidizing Niagara’s creation of several dozen minimum wage jobs by providing them artificially cheap water. I fully agree with those questioning the wisdom of using our water supply for this purpose, but “wisdom” is not always what drives decision making in San Antonio when “economic development” is purported to be at stake. Therefore, I will instead hope to see SAWS informing Niagara that they will have to pay full freight for the incremental use that their bottling plant would imply, as that incremental supply is going to be reliant on Vista Ridge. If the plant was set up along the Vista Ridge pipeline, outside of San Antonio and the SAWS system, they would be negotiating based on the actual cost of VR water with no SAWS ratepayer subsidy. I would be interested to hear Mr. Puente’s and other panelists take on if a Niagara should get “cheap” water by simply setting up shop a few miles further south.

  8. this area needs to be more restrictive with water year round. Look what happened to Medina Lake

  9. How ridiculous. We cut down our trees for tacky buildings and we let people bottle water. Something is very wrong with decision making.

  10. This story was a major component of a conference call yesterday with rural landowners in the area from which the pipeline water will come, and repeatedly, those of us on the call, both water organization professionals and concerned citizens, made note of the comparisons with California. As the drought deepens there, Nestle refuses to stop bottling water, even as restrictions are placed on others. We are contemplating the same kind of ‘moving water’ system as CA has pursued, with over 2/3 of the people getting some water from the State Water Project alone. Why is it that we seem incapable of learning from California’s mistakes? They are pursuing conservation too late in the game, preferring pools and lush green lawns. They grow crops incompatible with their environment. They pipe water to areas which are naturally arid or semi-arid. And look at the disaster they have wrought!

  11. The zoning commission recently APPROVED the rezoning of the area in order to pave the way for this waste of water.

    This project is being fast-tracked, and it is up for a vote at June 3rd’s City Council meeting.

    San Antonio says it is targeting young, highly educated people to move to our city. Many said that the Uber issue sent the signal that we were a backward community. Approval of a project that is the antithesis of “sustainable” will only cement that idea in their minds.

    I’ve contacted MY councilmember… have you?

  12. Our group has offered up to 6000 acre feet of unregulated water to SAWS that they say they do not need and are not really interested in. It is less costly than the Vista Ridge water and readily available. How about Niagara take a look at water SAWS passes on; this water will not be on the SAWS ratepayers nickel. I have tried to contact Niagara on several occasions to no avail; just like Vista Ridge I feel this will be fast tracked for approval.

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