Starbucks sends five cents toward water charity projects in other countries for every bottle of Ethos water sold. That seems like a great thing, except that the water bottled into Ethos bottles is drawn from springs in California. And as Anna Lenzer, writing for Mother Jones, recently pointed out, the Golden State doesn't exactly have a ton of water to spare. It's currently facing one of the worst droughts in recent history.
Now, after media coverage, Starbucks announced that they plan to move the production and sourcing of Ethos water out of California. They will rely on their Pennsylvania manufacturer (which already serves the East Coast), "while simultaneously exploring alternatives to transition to a new source and supplier to serve the company’s West Coast distribution," according to the company’s press statement.
On April 16, the Merced Sun-Star reported that residents were complaining about a private water bottler, owned and operated by the grocery chain Safeway, that ships the increasingly scarce groundwater out for profit. In addition to its own bottled water, the plant also produces Starbucks' Ethos water. No one knows exactly how much water the plant is using—the city of Merced considers that information confidential. (Starbucks uses a water source in Pennsylvania for the Ethos bottles sold in its locations in the eastern United States.)
The Starbucks water bottled at the plant comes from private springs in Baxter, a small unincorporated community in Placer County, a few hours north of Merced in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The spring water comes free of charge—in California, water companies typically don't have to pay for the groundwater they use.
Starbucks isn't the only source of bottled water that draws from California. Aquafina, Crystal Geyser, Dasani and Arrowhead all source their water or treat and bottle tap water from the state, reports Julia Lurie at Mother Jones. Exactly how much these companies draw directly from California is obscured because companies aren’t required to disclose this information. But that doesn’t let them off the hook. Lurie writes:
In the grand scheme of things, the amount of water used for bottling in California is only a tiny fraction of the amount of water used for food and beverage production—plenty of other bottled drinks use California's water, and a whopping 80 percent of the state's water supply goes toward agriculture. But still, the question remains: Why are Americans across the country drinking bottled water from drought-ridden California?
The answer is partially because California happens to be where some of these brands started. However, perhaps that should change given the drought may be a more permanent state of things in the arid West.