The Pepsi facility at at 6100 NE Loop 410.
A Pepsi truck sits in the parking lot of PepsiCo's bottling facility at 6100 NE Loop 410. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

PepsiCo will receive up to around $155,000 in rebates from the San Antonio Water System to reduce water use by almost 10 million gallons at its bottling plant on the East Side.

The rebate specifically tailored for the international soda giant will help take Pepsi’s water use from 2.02 gallons of water per gallon of beverage produced at the plant to 1.84 gallons, SAWS conservation director Karen Guz said. The changes are expected to save 9.8 million gallons of water per year. That’s enough water to supply about 1,300 San Antonio households for a month.

Guz spoke about the rebates at SAWS’ December board meeting, in which the municipally owned water and sewer utility’s board unanimously approved the rebate.

“I’m glad [this] at the end of the day results in good conservation efforts by a good corporate citizen as well as I think a reasonable incentive,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, a SAWS board member in his official capacity, said at the meeting.

Guz said the SAWS rebate will help Pepsi offset the costs of upgrading the plant’s warmers, water heaters, and steam system. The total cost was as of December estimated at $588,300.

Pepsi communications director Jennifer Ryan did not respond to email and voicemail questions about the specifics of what would be changed at the plant.

At the meeting, Guz said that commercial customers make up a “relatively small number” of SAWS accounts but account for roughly 30 percent of SAWS’ water sales by volume.

“They’re very important to us, and we try to work with a lot of them proactively,” she said, adding that custom rebates for water-intensive businesses allow SAWS to help nudge them into doing projects they might not otherwise.

“Anything that they’re required to do – perhaps it’s because it’s their only option, perhaps because they’re required by code or it has a very short payback because it’s such a good option – those wouldn’t be eligible for an incentive,” Guz explained. “We’re really looking for that deal where we think they wouldn’t do it otherwise, that it’s close to a good enough deal for a business customer, but not quite.”

Meredith McGuire, a Trinity University professor emerita and member of the Alamo Group of the Sierra Club who has studied SAWS’ rates extensively, spoke highly of Guz’s work.

But she also questioned changes to SAWS rates in 2015 that she said made water conservation less financially attractive for businesses.

“My concern is not about the rebate itself,” McGuire said in an email. “It’s that SAWS’ rate-restructuring in 2015 reduced the cost of water for businesses so much that it took away any incentive to conserve water or to invest in water-efficient processes.”

McGuire said that by reducing the water supply fee component of the SAWS bill for commercial customers, SAWS officials shifted about $2 million a year to its residential customers, “many of whom are struggling to pay utility bills.” Between 2015 and 2016, SAWS also reduced the amount that commercial customers pay by volume for water for those businesses that used the same or less water than the previous year.

“Without [Guz’s] prod, most local industries would not think about changing their processes, because doing business as usual is highly profitable, as is,” McGuire said.

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.