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..

RELATED STORIES:

San Antonio’s Water Security Tied to Health of its Neighbors

Drought Research Off to a Good, But Rainy Start

Commentary: Securing San Antonio’s Water

Aquifer Protection, Trailways Expansion on May 9 Ballot

An Oral History: War & Peace Over the Edwards Aquifer

Five Reasons Why Council Should Approve Renewal of Edwards Aquifer Protection

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.