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Beverage Companies Using Bay Area Tap Water, While Residential Customers Face Mandatory Restrictions

HAYWARD (KCBS) — California is facing one of its severest droughts on record and residential water customers have been asked to conserve wherever they can. But even as Californians are taking shorter showers and letting their lawns turn brown, water is being filtered and bottled—and in some case shipped out of state—for profit.

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir water system supplies high-quality tasting drinking water to residents and businesses throughout the Bay Area. PepsiCo, located in Hayward, bottles Aquafina using water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is sourced from Hetch Hetchy.

KCBS Cover Story: Municipal Water Bottled And Sold For Profit From Drought Stricken California

"We do not have a limitation as to what they can do with that water and when it goes into a bottle or a can," says Alex Ameri, who is the director of utilities and environmental services for Hayward. "The water is not wasted, as long as it is used in production, we do not distinguish between bottled water or let's say a soda or a juice product."

Because of its high quality water, Hayward is home to many food processors and bottlers including PepsiCo's Aquafina and Shasta Beverages Inc.'s only bottling plant.

"SFPUC right now has a voluntary cutback of ten percent for us," Ameri says. "They can change that for us in the future but we are meeting the ten percent cutback right now."

PepsiCo spokeswoman Gina Anderson said that the Aquafina produced in California is shipped to retailers, food service operators and other distributors for sale in the state.

"It is possible, that some product could make its way out of state through a third party distributor or retailer," she said.

And it does. A KCBS listener said she purchased a bottle of Aquafina that was bottled in Sacramento at the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.

PepsiCo, however, is not alone in using California municipal tap sources for bottled water; Coke produces Dasani and Swiss conglomerate Nestle produces number of waters.

"We wonder why are bottling our local water and turning into commercial product; there are problems associated with the plastic of bottled water but of course ending bottled water wouldn't solve the bigger problem of the drought," says Peter Gleick who is president of the Pacific Institute and the author of "Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water."

Gleick says that the amount of water used by bottlers compared to agriculture is still small.

But with no end of the drought in sight, it could be matter of perception as some may ask if a scarce resource should be resold for profit in another state.

"The truth is: we don't have to buy bottled water," Gleick says. "It's a choice we make."

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