Outrage Directed at Wal-Mart for Bottling Water In Drought-Stricken California

( [email protected] ) May 13, 2015 12:07 PM EDT
California Drought
The Westlands Water district, the largest in the United States, is photographed from above, showing the extent of fallowed land due to the drought in Central Valley, Calif., July 5, 2014. Ed Kashi/VII

Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the United States, has drawn fire from critics after it was revealed that the company sourced its bottled water from a drought-stricken part of California.

According to Adrienne Moore of CBS 13, the label for Wal-Mart's brand, Great Value, indicated that its water source came from the Sacramento Municipal Water Supply. The state is currently undergoing a severe, long-term drought.

"Either they were unaware, uninformed or unintentionally did this," public relations expert Doug Elmets said. "It could be all three of those. Whatever it is, it's a bad move and they need to correct it and they need to do it quickly."

Moore reported that Starbucks also faced criticism for producing Ethos bottled water in California; that company's bottling operations have been moved to Pennsylvania. She elaborated on the deal Wal-Mart had with the bottler and the city.

"Sacramento sells water to a bottler, DS Services of America, at 99 cents for every 748 gallons-the same rate as other commercial and residential customers," Moore wrote. "That water is then bottled and sold at Wal-Mart for 88 cents per gallon, meaning that $1 of water from Sacramento turns into $658.24 for Wal-Mart and DS Services."

Moore added that in comparison, the average family in the Sacramento area used "417 gallons of water a day." Even though the deal is completely legal, Elmet wondered how consumers in the state would react to Wal-Mart's arrangement, given that California has ordered water cuts for residential use of as much as 36 percent.

"It's certainly leaving a bad taste in everyone's mouth when you can't fill up a swimming pool, if you're building a new home in West Sacramento," Elmets said. "You can't water your lawn if you're living in this region. And to find out they're making a huge profit off of this, it's just not right."

Elmets hoped that Wal-Mart would take immediate action in regards to finding another water supply for bottling purposes.

"Find another supplier outside of California that can be able to meet the needs that they have and also the needs of the consumer," Elmets said.

Wal-Mart issued a response to Moore's report.

"We have and continue to work with our suppliers to act responsibly while meeting the needs of customers who count on us across California," the company said in a statement.

According to Ben Tracy of CBS News, Wal-Mart is not the only company that bottles water in California.

"Aquafina, Crystal Geyser, Arrowhead, and Dasani also sell bottled water drawn from municipal water supplies in drought-stricken California," Tracy wrote.

Tracy then cited figures from the California water board indicating that bottled water companies use 2.6 billion gallons of the water supply every year. In comparison, city residents use 2.4 trillion gallons and the agriculture industry uses 8.6 trillion gallons in the same time period.

"The companies say they're monitoring the water situation and will adjust if necessary. But there is a perception problem," Tracy wrote.

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