Where Has All the Water Gone? Check the Grocery Store.

Image by Jonathan Chng.

In Robert Hunziker’s excellent article, America’s Biggest Reservoirs Hit By Dead Pool Jitters (CounterPunch August 5, 2022) we learned that Lake Mead and Lake Power are “at high risk of dead pool…when water in a reservoir drops so low that it cannot flow downstream to the dam.”

We know that climate change is the cause of continued drought, but where did all that water go, other than electric power, public drinking water, and irrigation? The answer occurred to me one day in the grocery store.

There was a time when soft drinks only came in six-packs of twelve-ounce bottles in the grocery store, and the only bottled water was club soda and tonic water, usually in a single larger bottle or six-pack of smaller bottles. There was no aisle of bottled water or liters and liters of soft drinks. Also, beer was only sold in six-packs of twelve-ounce bottles and cans. If you wanted anything larger than six-packs, like a case of beer, you had to go to a “Liquor” store. Furthermore, there were only five or six regional breweries and they were not owned by one giant corporation. There were no gas station “mini marts”, and department stores did not sell the same groceries as the grocery store, like you now see in stores such as Target and Walmart.

The fact is, it takes billions of gallons of water to mass-produced soft drinks, beer and bottled water. Let’s take a look at some of those numbers.

The Coca-Cola Company tells us that it “is a growth company,” to “build a culture of success that fuels our transformation and supports growth worldwide.” 1 They also see growth as never ending because, the “world has billions of people living in it, and that population continues to grow, but only a small percentage of those people are consuming our beverages today.  Even if we doubled the number of drinkers of our beverages over the next decade, there would still be plenty of headroom to grow for years to come.” 2

Furthermore, Coca-Cola is pleased to tell us that they only need 1.81 liters of water to create 1 liter of soft drink. 3

According to their annual report, under Total Water Withdrawn, it states 298,235 megaliters. That is 78,785,352,035 gallons of water. Water from Fresh Surface Water Sources for 2021 was 12,025 megaliters, which comes out to 3,176,668,929 gallons. The water from Third-Party Sources was 144,256 megaliters or 38,108,403,585 gallons. From Groundwater sources they used 136,195 megaliters or 35,978,912,671 gallons of water. Furthermore, twenty percent of their water consumption comes from “high or extremely high baseline water stress” areas. 4

However, Coca-Cola claims, it is working with “The Nature Conservancy and other nonprofits to establish a watershed health plan for three vulnerable California watersheds that supply water to [their] bottling plants and for [their] agricultural ingredients” – lemons and almonds. 5 This is clearly an admission that they not only know they are taking water from high water stress areas, but they continue to take it – with the help of the Nature Conservancy and other non-profit organizations.

This is precious water being used in the billions of gallons to make junk food for private profit. They go on to say that “water issues” are of part of a “holistic ESG [Environmental, Social & Governance] strategy overseen by the Board of Directors.” And who might that be? Among many, there are executives of private investment firms, an executive from The Blackstone Group, an executive chair of Banco Santander, and Barry Diller, Chairman of the Board and Senior Executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp. 6 Rest assured, if these directors were questioned about the billions of gallons of water used to make their soft drinks; they would provide the typical knee-jerk response about their legal obligation and “fiduciary duty” to first and foremost make a profit for shareholders/investors – as part of the never-ending growth plan.

The other big soft drink water user is PepsiCo. Pepsico used 85,853,199 kiloliters of water “associated with manufacturing operations.” That would be 22,680,015,781 gallons. Pepsico measured their water use as 1.8 liters of water to make 1 liter of beverage. 7

According to PepsiCo’s CDP Water Security Questionnaire 2022, the company had total withdrawals of 85,942 megaliters of water or 22,703,474,524 gallons. The total consumption of water for 2021 was 29,112 megaliters or 7,690,576,788 gallons. 8

When it comes to beer, Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV is the largest brewing company in the world and owns multiple brands of beer. 9

AB InBev claims that their water use efficiency ratio is 2.66 hl/hl, which is that it takes 2.66 hl (hectoliters) of water to create 1 hl of product. One hectoliter of water is 26 gallons. Therefore, 2.66 hl of water is 70 gallons (to create 1 hectoliter or 26 gallons of product).10 AB InBev produced 581.7 million hl of beer volume for 2021, which would be 15,366,888,286 gallons of beer. To create that much beer it required 1,547,322,000 hl of water, which would be 40,875,922,840 gallons. 11

According to AB InBev, water for their brewing comes from the following sources: 41.0% from groundwater, 41.6% from Third party water, 17.4% from surface water and 0.1% from rainwater.12 The total water use for 2021 was 1.599 billion hl, which is 42,241,111,172 gallons.13

The other giant beer corporation is Molson Coors which also owns multiple brands of beer. 14

Molson Coors used the measurement of 3.37 hl/hl which is 3.37 hectoliters of water to create 1 hl of product. In gallons that would be 89 gallons of water to create 26 gallons of product. 15

Molson Coors sold 84 million hectoliters of beer in 2021 (2,219,045,239 gallons). 16 That comes out to 7,478,182,458 gallons of water.

In the Molson Coors 2021 Annual Report it states, “In the U.S. and Canada, we both own and lease water rights, as well as purchase water through local municipalities and communities, to provide for and sustain brewing operations in case of a prolonged drought in the regions where we have operations. We do not currently anticipate future difficulties in accessing water or agricultural products used in our brewing process in the near term.” 17

Another big water user is Nestlé, which produces a lot of bottled water (as well as other water-consuming products). Total water withdrawals at Nestlé was 98 million m3 (cubic meters).18 That is 25,888,861,096 gallons. Total water consumption for 2021 was 39 million m3 which is 10,302,710,042 gallons 19

Nestlé used 1.52 m3 of water per tonne of product, just for bottled water. 20 That would mean that it took 17 gallons of water to create 11 gallons of bottled water. 1 m3 is 0.3531466672 ton, in gallons that is 11.214068424140745. 1.52 m3 is 0.5367829342 ton, which is 17.045384006472197 gallons.

According to the Nestlé sustainability report, the “Percentage of water withdrawn in regions with ‘high’ or ‘extremely high’ baseline water stress” was 35.40 percent in 2021 which was higher than 2020 (25 percent). The “Percentage of water consumed in regions with ‘high’ or ‘extremely high’ baseline water stress,” jumped from 30% in 2020 to 49.10% in 2021. 21

In the Nestlé annual report, underwater brands, it lists Nestlé Pure Life, S. Pellegrino, Vittel, and Perrier. In April 2021, Nestlé sold its Nestlé Waters North America, which included the water brands, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Ozarka, Poland Spring, Pure Life, Splash, and Zephyrhills to One Rock Capital Partners LLC and Metropoulos & Co. The name Nestlé Waters North America was changed to BlueTriton. On the One Rock Capital Partners’ website, it says they are the “Owner of spring and purified water brands in North America, such as Poland Spring, Deer Park, Ozarka, Pure Life, Splash and Zephyrhills. BlueTriton Brands is a carve-out from Nestlé.” 22 BlueTriton, a private company, does not provide any calculations of water usage on their website at https://bluetriton.com/our-operations.

On the website for Metropoulos & Co, their portfolio includes BlueTriton, Poland Spring, Arrowhead, Ice Mountain, Deer Park, Zephyrhills, Ozark and Nestlé Splash (http://www.metropoulos.com/portfolio/).

There is a lot of discussion in all of these annual and ESG reports about what these corporations are doing to help the environment and people. They want us to know that they care, by using all kinds of public relations information, varieties of charts, graphs and explanations showing how they use natural resources and water, and how concerned they are about their social responsibility.

However, once you get past all the colorful graphics and pictures, and get down to the facts, these corporations are each using billions and billions of gallons of water to make their products, boost their profits and increase their growth, whether they try to smooth it over as kiloliters, megaliters, hectoliters or cubic meters.

So, the next time you are in the grocery store, convenience store, or gas station mini-mart and you see all those sections of bottled water, soft drinks and beer, think about the vanishing water levels of the lakes, rivers and reservoirs.

Is that just a coincidence? I don’t think so.


1. https://www.coca-colacompany.com/company/leadership.

2. https://www.coca-colacompany.com/strategy. Long Term Growth.

3. https://www.coca-Colacompany.com/investors. 2021 Business & ESG Report, p. 23, Pilar1 Our Operations.

4. Ibid, p. 73, Water.

5. Ibid, p. 25, Pilar3 Our Watersheds.

6. James Quincey (Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company); Herb Allen (Allen & Co. a privately held investment firm based in New York, focused on the media, entertainment, technology and other innovative industries); Marc Bolland (Head of European Portfolio Operations of The Blackstone Group Inc., one of the world’s leading investment firms); Ana Botin (Executive Chair of Banco Santander, S.A., the parent bank of Grupo Santander); Christopher C. Davis (Chairman of Davis Selected Advisers-NY, Inc., an independent investment management firm); Barry Diller (Chairman of the Board and Senior Executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp, a leading media and Internet company); Carolyn Everson (business leader with extensive experience in media and consumer-facing companies); Helene D. Gayle (President and Chief Executive Officer of The Chicago Community Trust); Alexis Herman (Chair and Chief Executive Officer of New Ventures LLC, a corporate consulting company); Maria Elena Lagomasino (Chief Executive Officer and Managing Partner of WE Family Offices, a global family office serving high net worth families); Caroline Tsay (CEO and Director of Compute Software, Inc., a Mountain View, California-based enterprise cloud optimization software company); David B. Weinberg (Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Judd Enterprises, Inc., a private, investment-management office with diverse interests in a variety of asset classes, and President of Digital Bandwidth LLC, its private, early-stage technology investing affiliate).

7. Pepsico Apex Verification Opinion Declaration Greenhouse Gas Emissions, p. 2.

8. PepsiCo, Inc. CDP Water Security Questionnaire 2022, pages 11-13.

9. U.S brands include, Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Stella Artois, Patagonia, Estrella Jalisco, Busch, Natural Light, LandShark, Presidente, Hoegaarden, Shock Top, 10 Barrel Brewing Co, Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Blue/Point, Breckenridge Brewery, Cisco Brewers, Devils Backbone, Elysian Brewing, Four Peaks Brewing Co, Golden Road Brewing, Goose Island, Karbach Brewing Company, Kona Brewing Co, Omission Balanced Brewing, Platform Beer Co., Red Hook, Square Mile Cider Co., Veza Sur Brewing Co, Virtue Cider, Wicked Weed Brewing, Widmer Brothers Brewing, Wynwood Brewing. (https://www.anheuser-busch.com/brands/)

10. https://www.ab-inbev.com/investors/annual-and-half-year-reports/. 2021 Annual Report, p. 44, Water Stewardship.

11. Ibid, p. 6, Key figures 2021.

12. https://www.ab-inbev.com/investors/esg-resources/. Environmental, Social & Governance Report 2021, p. 29.

13. https://www.ab-inbev.com/investors/annual-and-half-year-reports/. 2021 Annual Report, p. 42, Our 2025 Sustainability Goals.

14. Molson North American brands: AC Golden, Aguila, Aquarelle, Arnold Palmer Spiked Half & Half, Atwater Brewing, Barmen Pilsner, Batch 19, Bella Amari, Black Horse, Black Ice, Blue Moon/Belgian Moon, Bohemian, Brasseur de Montréal, Cape Line Sparkling Cocktails, Carling, Clearly Kombucha, Colorado Native, Coors, Creemore Springs, Crispin Cider, Cristal (Peru), Cusqueña, Foster’s, Fine Company, Five Trail, George Killian’s Irish Red, Golden Wing, Granville Island Brewing, Grolsch, Hamm’s, Henry Weinhard’s, Herman Joseph’s Private Reserve, Hop Valley, Icehouse, India Beer, Keystone, Laurentide, Leinenkugel’s, Mad & Noisy, Mad Jack, Mickey’s, Miller Brewing Company, Milwaukee’s Best, Molson, OKeefe, Old Style Pilsner, Old Vienna, Olde English 800, Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, Red Dog, Redd’s, Revolver Brewing, Rickards, Saint Archer Brewing, Smith & Forge Hard Cider, Sol Cerveza, Sparks, Standard Lager, Staropramen, Terrapin Beer Company, Tyskie.

15. https://www.molsoncoors.com/sustainability/sustainability-reporting. Molson Coors ESG Report 2021, pp. 17, 18.

16. https://ir.molsoncoors.com/financials/annual-reports/default.aspx. Molson Coors Annual Report 2021, Form 10-K, pp. 46, 47.

17. Ibid., p. 10.

18. https://www.nestle.com/investors/environmental-social-governance-sustainability. Creating Shared Value Sustainability Report-2021, Water, p. 32.

19. https://www.nestle.com/sustainability/water. Water Stewardship; Ibid.

20. Ibid., Sustainability Report-2021, Water, p. 32.

21. Ibid.

22. https://www.onerockcapital.com/portfolio.