Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
A Coca-Cola plant in Mexico uses 1.08M liters of water per day as wells dry up (truth-out.org)
340 points by colinprince on Sept 19, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 155 comments

> ...the company has permits for two wells to extract a total of 499,918 cubic meters of water per year, or 499.9 million liters. In 2016, the company extracted 78.8 percent of the permitted total.

So the government gave Coke the permits, Coke used under 80% of the agreed amount, and now it's a crisis? It has the markings of some severe utilities planning blunder.

> "The city has been growing significantly since the 1970s," he says in an interview at his office, which has a view of Huitepec mountain, where Coca-Cola extracts its water. "But in San Cristobal, there was no urban planning. And that's been aggravated by public policies that don't pay attention to the Indigenous people of the state."

That sort of gets at the real problem.

There are a lot of questions. Would things would actually get better if Coke were to shut down operations? How many people would stop drawing salaries? How much tax revenue loss does the government face with halted operations? Would the freed up water volume be enough to avert disaster? Does the drought affect everyday citizens or farmers the most? Are there any other environmental externalities that result from the Coke plant?

These are some of the tough questions that we need to answer before we can readily assign blame to megacorps. It's easy to hate large companies, and I dislike my fair share, but boiling this situation down into a headliner shaming corporate avarice may not be the best way to make progress. Maybe they should shut down the plant, or maybe they shouldn't--I don't know, and it shouldn't be for armchair economists thousands of miles away to decide. It just seems more complicated than the solicited visceral emotions may suggest.

Coke is huge in this part of Chiapas, especially in indigenous areas.

I was there last spring, and my guide said Coca-Cola bribed the village curanderos (spiritual healers) to increase the consumption of Coke, so they incorporated it into religious rituals [0].

The water isn't safe to drink, and Coke can be cheaper than milk or formula, so many moms feed their babies Coke instead [1].

The point is, when the megacorp has subverted democracy from the national leaders [1] to the regional leaders all the way down to the village healers, how can you not hold the megacorp accountable?

[0] https://costumbresporelmundo.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/tum...

[1] http://robinewing.com/2013/09/22/cola-consumption-and-the-ch...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicente_Fox

In that article it was locals who got the witch doctor frauds to switch from bootleg alcohol to cola in their cermonies, so no direct link from that plant to them. It's local middlemen screwing over their own people and those criminal "healers" who now make more money from patients because it's easier and cheaper to obtain sodas than it is to make and sell alcohol. For sure a bad situation but if sodas weren't around they'd be drinking booze again and milk would still be too expensive, the water still undrinkable.

If you want to hold somebody accountable start with the guys peddling phony healing for dollars then move up from there to whoever is politically in charge of that region letting it go to shit, not hiring engineers and planners but instead cronies, and pocketing the rest of the federal money transfers. https://growthlab.cid.harvard.edu/publications/why-chiapas-p...

Organized crime networks also like to hide behind shell companies, contractors and legitimate businesses.

Investigators use the concept of cui bono to figure out who is ultimately responsible.

Who benefits?

Just because local distributors are doing the bribing doesn't insulate the megacorp from moral culpability for their actions.

By the way, the bribes often aren't in cash, they're free cases of Coke.

True, but the real problem is obviously the money taken from Coca-Cola having a plant in Chiapas is not reaching the poorest inhabitants through urban planning/economic long term strategy and instead going into somebody's pocket. This is a political problem and nothing Coca-Cola can do will change that. Any attempt at companies getting involved in local activism will just put those people at even more risk. For the water problem they could attempt to fund the building of wells in these communities affected but this will of course be a corrupt money pit, tons will be spent and nothing done so really all they can do is leave the state, then Chiapas is even more poor and desperate.

So at what point does a megacorp, with all of its power and wealth, decide to do something good? Will we ever get to a point where we can we at least try to evolve towards sustainable capitalism?

What kind of extra profits do you think Coke brings in from the excess consumption from religious rituals of Spiritual Healers?

Lets say Chiapas (3.4 million people) has (10% population of Spiritual Healers) = 340,000 Spiritual Leaders.

Each spiritual leader will now purchase a 1 Liter coke for a religious ceremony EVERY DAY that they otherwise would not have. Coke costs .73 pesos per liter in Chiapas. 340,000 x .73 Pesos = 248,200 Pesos per day.

248,200 Pesos coverts to $13,992.88 USD per day.

$13,992.88 x 365 (days in a year) = $5,107,401.20 USD Total extra coke consumption.

So Coke is now possibly selling 5 million USD more dollars per year of coke with this scheme. You must subtract the cost of making coke which we do not know, and the cost of the "bribes", to find Coke's total profit here.

But as someone involved in marketing the potential downside of this scandal doesn't seem worth the extra 5 million in sales from Coke used during religious rituals in Chiapas.

It seems more likely to me that if mothers are feeding their babies Coke instead of the expensive milk, or contaminated water, that the Spiritual Healers are making the same decision as everyone else. That Coke is the safest, most cost effective and pleasant drink available.

Full Disclosure: I am drinking my morning Diet Dr. Pepper as I type this.

They wouldn't be targeting spiritual healers as consumers -- the number would be far lower than you suggest -- they would be targeting them as the "brand ambassadors" and "thought leaders" within their community. Which is eminently sensible. Evil, but sensible.

When the doctor prescribes Coca Cola to heal you and your family, Coca Cola is no longer just a refreshing but unhealthy treat.

Now it's medicine. Now it's essential for life itself.

So you drink it at breakfast to fortify you for the day ahead. You feed gallons of it to your kids because you love them and want them to be healthy.

Coca Cola has always a parasitic brand that attaches to things to sell product. You are forgetting about the implicit religious endorsement of the spiritual healer using Coke. That endorsement neutralizes negative factors. It's a sugary drink, but it must be good if it is part of religious ritual!

The high level process is: Create need (subvert the healers' credibility), make the product indispensable (attach to healing ritual), link to outcome and provide a sample (feeling better = Coke)

Most infamously, Nestle used techniques like this to sell powdered baby formula in third world countries -- a practice that literally killed thousands of children in the process. In the United States, Coke is co-branded with lots of other things that people like: McDonald's, Movies, Christmas (Santa = Coke), etc. Coke is the master of applying this marketing pattern.

I appreciate the point you are making, and I don't disagree for the most part on Coke's branding process.

But does that type of strategy extend to local communities and Spiritual Healers?

I don't think the math supports that. The team of "expert consultants" who would come up with a plan like this and institute it would charge more in their salaries than the increased consumption in Chiapas is worth. Also, ask yourself why a strategy like that would even be necessary in Chiapas???

You don't need to trick people into buying Coke when they don't have access to clean and affordable water.

I think the idea would be less "sell more Coke" and more "become an integral part of the lives of the voting population of the town our factory is in". When Coke is holy, those who would stand against it are heretics.

Remember that Coke has a franchise bottler model.

So Coca Cola FEMSA's marketing people develop and execute their marketing strategy. Just because Mexico is a relatively poorer country doesn't mean that the business people are a bunch of bumpkins.

People in Chiapas may not be drinking Coke by the gallon, but it's a product with drug-like margins. They have a positive customer value, or Coke wouldn't be doing it.


Please comment civilly and substantively or not at all.


Just because something makes economic sense doesn't make it good. "Your wells are dry so we're leaving, but I assure you we all profited heavily during the process!"

>> But as someone involved in marketing the potential downside of this scandal doesn't seem worth the extra 5 million in sales from Coke used during religious rituals in Chiapas.

What scandal? Envelopes full of cash at night by a local manager and be done. Both sides will deny it.

$5 Mil in sales is nothing, but $5 mil here and $5 mil there...Surely Coca Cola want everyone consuming their products.

> The water isn't safe to drink, and Coke can be cheaper than milk or formula, so many moms feed their babies Coke instead [1].

So, the unsafe water, gets treated, margin added and still cheaper as coke than local drinkable water.

Not sure what to say at this.

On its face, it seems like it cannot be true.

The main ingredient in Coca-Cola is filtered water. If Coke is cheaper than water in these communities, then why isn't the company selling bottled water for the same price? Their bottling and distribution costs would be the same, while the cost of ingredients would decrease.

It makes no economic sense for Coca-Cola to not sell bottled water in this context. Lacking an economic motive, what's left? Is the assertion that Coca-Cola is actively malevolent and is using their economic power to harm people on purpose at their own expense?

Maybe it's because it's harder for companies to compete with Coke than with bottled water?

If Coca-Cola is selling bottled water, then another company could come in and start selling bottled water as well, and there's really nothing interesting to differentiate them. But while another company can sell soda, they can't sell Coke. So getting people used to Coke means they'll always instinctively reach for Coke when they're thirsty.

If that's that case, what's stopping another company from selling bottled water today?

Um, the fact they would have to have deep wells to get any out of the ground, and that the water authority doesn't have any to extra water reserves to sell them. So, yea, it seems like there is quite a lot keeping competitors from selling products.

Sure, for now at least. Perhaps Coca-Cola is thinking longer term, or perhaps they are just doing what has worked for them elsewhere.

But if something changes the water shortage, either environmental or technological, then Coca-Cola is still in a good position.

Coca-cola is selling bottled water in Mexico. They sell it under the brand Agua Ciel. It's the biggest bottled water provider in Mexico. Keep in mind that everyone in Mexico uses bottled water. The tap water is not safe to drink.

I live in California, and I travel to Mexico occasionally. It is not uncommon, in my experience, to find vendors selling bottles of water that are simply bottles fished out of the trash and filled with tap water. As a tourist, I try to avoid this scam by drinking liquids that are easier to recognize as genuine. I'm not sure how much this contributes to a general societal influence towards non-water beverages though.

> The water isn't safe to drink, and Coke can be cheaper than milk or formula, so some moms feed their babies Coke instead.

Fucking hell that's awful.

My cousin adopted a kid from near the US Mexican border.

She told me when they first brought him home (he was 5), that he could barely speak, was terrified and kept screaming "oda!".

They thought perhaps Oda was the name of his brother who was sold into slavery by his birth mother.

He was unrelenting in his crys. Finally, exhausted, my cousins husband sat down at 3am and opened a Coke to drink. The boy pointed and screamed "oda!".

He wanted Soda. They gave him some and his entire nervous system relaxed and he could goto sleep.

He was raised in a drug house, spent most of his life locked in a closet with little food and plenty of feces.. and his mother bottle fed him soda.

When they adopted him he was like a feral animal, hiding and picking food out of the trash.

He's now 9 and doing much better (they had to ween him off soda). He's relaxed and is in a loving and safe home.

But fuck sakes, I don't think most of us have any idea the horror that many people are facing on a daily basis.

What you call a "horror" is what most human beings throughout history would call "life". Not only history, but most human beings throughout the world today. We in the developed world enjoy a dream-like existence few in the whole of human history have ever known. Legit the biggest problem some people will have today is that someone forgot they didn't want guacamole on their burrito. Unfortunately, this has a way of completely twisting and corrupting one's view of the world, and it gives most people a very strange set of priorities. Most human beings alive today are living in dangerous shitholes. Some people need to carry an AK-47 to go to the market, but because they have semi-reliable access to food, they're better off than a lot of others. The one thing the infantry taught me is what the reality of life is like for the vast vast majority of human beings not living lucky in the developed world. And really, any history book will teach you that this is and has been the standard throughout our existence. I wake up every single day thanking the stars for the life I have. I think more people in the developed world could stand to be grateful for what they've got.


> We in the developed world enjoy a dream-like existence few in the whole of human history have ever known.

You just have to ask yourself; how many of my ancestors were able to afford a hot shower in the morning and you begin to realize, how mind-fuckingly amazing the life we have actually is.

Thanks for putting it into words.

That's no excuse for locking a child in a closet. Your ancestors may not have had hot showers or supermarkets but the children would either be with their parents or roaming free. A kid helping farm is better off in so many ways than one trapped in a tiny room.

I was surprised to hear people compare being locked in a closet with agrarian life.

I think OP may be correct that people do this, but I am not at all convinced with the reasons.

idiocy playing out in real life

It's not idiocy, it's lack of health education which is a luxury that many talk for granted.

Does coca-cola charge for breast milk over there?

You probably haven't lactated. It's not that simple -- once a baby accepts formula, it's nearly impossible to breast feed.

That's a big reason why breastmilk companies are ready, willing and eager to "help" with sample product. Hell, somehow two of those companies were able to estimate the birthdate that our child would have likely had if my wife hadn't miscarried early. They go to the expense of mailing 10 lb boxes of product with a retail value of around $75 to people -- it's almost an "addictive" product with ROI high enough to justify that large marketing expense.

In third world countries, they go so far as to send people dressed like nurses to provide samples and "help".

> once a baby accepts formula, it's nearly impossible to breast feed.

I'm male, but I'm a parent and remember dealing with this stuff.

In addition to difficulty getting the baby to latch after feeding formula very early, there's also the issue of building and maintaining supply. The first few days of life are important for both mother and baby - there isn't a lot of milk being produced at first, and the child's attempts at nursing encourage milk production to begin in earnest. The natural course is that the mother's milk comes in to meet the baby's growing need. If you "skip" a day or two in the beginning, even if you get the kid to latch there isn't going to be enough milk to satisfy them. This leads to supplementing with formula, which in turn solidifies difficulty latching and further delays milk production.

I remember having to be very firm with hospital staff to under no circumstances feed our first daughter formula. In the first couple of days they really pushed us to, justifying it by saying "Momma needs her rest!" and "Dad should experience feeding the baby, too." We had a good experience overall with both our children, but in both cases I had to really take command of the situation to ensure that our wishes were followed. In a couple of cases that was even "against medical advice".

I'm male (Father) of three daughters who all breast fed. They also occasionally got formula when it was not possible to breast feed them but it did not change their breast feeding at all.

There is a lot of noise around breast feeding on the Internet but if you've got references to something other than apocryphal about formula preventing breast feeding I'm sure my daughters would like to know about it.

The key is in the first few days to teach mother and child how to latch to the breast.

If your wife and daughters breastfed in the hospital or immediately thereafter and then supplemented, that is different (and lower ROI) scenario.

There’s a ton of published material on the topic.

Breast feeding is preferred but not always possible for a variety of reasons. Having to fall back on fucking Coke is a pretty grim reality to contemplate.

I agree. I once saw a woman feeding a chocolate hostess cake to her <6 month old baby on the subway in NYC and it made me feel sick. This was while I myself had a similarly aged baby.

>The water isn't safe to drink, and Coke can be cheaper than milk or formula, so many moms feed their babies Coke instead [1].

I find your reasons hard to believe and your reference #1 proves nothing. If water is not contaminated chemically, boiling is the solution like millions of people do daily. I also find it hard to believe milk is more expensive than coke as UHT milk is easy to import in large quantities and cheap.(A fast check shows milk is half the price in Mexico, water is even cheaper). Perhaps people do it anyway, but reasons sound dubious to me.

I don't know about Mexico but in Bolivia Coca-Cola is around half of the price of milk. I've heard that there are mothers giving coke to babies but never seen it. (I lived 4 years in Bolivia).

[0] Photo is specifically from Iglesia de San Juan: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/iglesia-de-san-juan-chamu... Apparently, Coca Cola is a choice to use alongside alcohol. I can't find mention of other places doing it.

[1] If the water is unsafe to drink, why would they not just boil it? That's how the vast majority of the world makes their water potable (especially tea).

I'm not saying Coca-Cola is free from wrongdoing, but the evidence of malice is very apocryphal. In my experiences in the third world, Coca-Cola was the only soft drink available, and people genuinely seemed to just really like soft drinks.

Heck, we have trouble getting Americans to drink water over soft drinks.

Hate to nitpick, but this is the Internet....

"many moms feed their babies Coke instead"

I see one reference in the article cited about two women feeding Coke to their babies. I'm not sure how the "many moms" conclusion is drawn - is there data on this or just this one anecdote?

Some days ago I watched the movie Idiocracy which is set in a future where Gatorade is used for everything and water is only known as something used to flush the toilet. I didn't realize we're this close.

Going to enjoy looking at the labels on the bottles next time my friends buy a "Mexican" coke instead of a "US" on.

In many cases, getting a government permit doesn't necessarily mean assent of the population. This divergence of representation is a pretty important problem. How could we use technology (and/or novel organizational structures) to help... without making things worse? Could we, for example, have a "PolicyBook" that connects people to their representatives in a way that gives responsible politicians (who aren't corrupt) credibility, and makes those who play for private benefit of their friends easily recognizable?

> In many cases, getting a government permit doesn't necessarily mean assent of the population.

That's the real problem in a lot of these situations and really with any long term obligation or resource grant bestowed by a government to a private entity. It doesn't necessarily reflect the will of the people in the future or, in many cases particularly in the third world, the present.

Short of restricting the maximum duration for such a grant, I don't see many ways to avoid this situation. Even that may have negative consequences as a company wouldn't want to invest in a municipality if the resources it'll be leveraging may not be available in the future. The uncertainty may make it a non starter.

> So the government gave Coke the permits, Coke used under 80% of the agreed amount, and now it's a crisis? It has the markings of some severe utilities planning blunder.

Qui bono?

Never attribute to stupidity that which is adequately explained by corruption. Or something like that. In situations like these (international megacorp and their offspring making deals in countries with 'emerging markets') I tend to take a very cynical view. I'm pretty sure that whoever signed those deals doesn't have to rely on these wells.

You raise some good points, though.

> So the government gave Coke the permits, Coke used under 80% of the agreed amount, and now it's a crisis? It has the markings of some severe utilities planning blunder.

The government being at fault doesn't change the problem. It's a small city in rural Mexico- you can't expect much. Calling it a "severe utilities planning blunder" implies absolute agency by the local government, which just isn't always true. The government sold a local resource with the expectation that it would be safe and that may have been foolish but we can't tell from the outside in this case. Take examples of Polynesian islands being strip-converted into farmland as the inhabitants sell to corporations. The natives were one step above tribal, and had no idea that would collapse the local ecosystem, and they're now forced to import all their food. It destroyed their health and economy- that wasn't a "severe utilities planning blunder", they were directly taken advantage of.

It's pretty clear that Coca-Cola is deeply entwined with Mexican governance at all levels, so it probably doesn't even make sense to blame the government. Coke may very well be making all the choices, when former presidents of coke become presidents of the country.

> There are a lot of questions. Would things would actually get better if Coke were to shut down operations? How many people would stop drawing salaries? How much tax revenue loss does the government face with halted operations?

Those are mostly strawmen- the choice isn't binary. A Pigovian tax maximizes value to everyone. A good question is whether that would be sufficient, but I get the impression from the article that most people think it would. Since that region is the biggest water source in Mexico you'd think they have at least a little extra water.

It is easier to convince(or bribe) the government officials and get the permission. The govt is too dumb or weak or corrupt. Later it is easier to blame the govt.

> So the government gave Coke the permits, Coke used under 80% of the agreed amount, and now it's a crisis? It has the markings of some severe utilities planning blunder.

Do you think the government acting for the people made the agreement or a government official(s) accepted bribes to make it happen. Hmmmmmmm....

Shutting down may not be desirable, but water efficiency might be. I don't know Coke's manufacturing line, but in the days of cheap acre feet, many industries would go through it like it was... water. Why drip irrigate when you can flood irrigate for cheaper.

So the government gave Coke the permits, Coke used under 80% of the agreed amount, and now it's a crisis?

No - it's how these permits are allocated -- and who pulls the strings on those making these "decisions" -- that's the crisis.

> How many people would stop drawing salaries?

Oh of course through wealth redistribution policies. At least until that well runs dry also.


So where I'm from we have a similar problem yet no end in site. After last years summer we had one of the worst droughts this region has ever had, but then it went into winter. It didn't rain much this winter and now we're back in summer... With water restrictions starting the summer as bad as they were when we ended it.

To the point of this though. One of the worlds largest breweries is situated in my city. My country has a horrendous alcohol problem, to the extent where paying farm labourers in booze only got outlawed just over 20 years ago.

Anyway this brewery makes most of the beer in the Southern Hemisphere, yet it was able to get so large because it is right on top of one of the biggest springs, and they claimed riparian rights many years ago.

My problem being is that up until this year, for the past 3 years, the public was allowed access to the spring on their land. Now they are denying the public access while we go through a drought and they continue to produce beer for next to nothing as they don't pay a cent for their biggest ingredient. Now I want to stop them making beer while we are in a drought, but in a country run by alcohol makers that will surely either be an impossible task or end up getting me killed.

As a Cape Town resident, I can corroborate all of the above. The city has instituted "Level 5B" water restrictions which mean <87L/person/day and no irrigation or washing allowed using municipal water.

Can you name the brewery / city?

Cape Town, South Africa. SABMiller, which was recently bought for £69 billion by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Yes that's the one.

This. The southern Indian state of Kerala successfully resisted and shutdown this company for good. Even the state made legislation to sue the company for those affected by its ruthless exploitation of ground water.

The factory was in the Palakkad district of Kerala which has historically low levels of ground water. The company was extracting more water than agreed to. The politics behind approving this plant in an already water deprived area is another story. The villagers were experiencing health problems, water depletion in their wells.

I would say the politicians approved this plant and the people shut it down. Even there was a smear campaign in the state against Coke depicting it as an effective insecticide so that people would stop consuming it.

This is not an isolated incident of foreign companies exploiting a third world country. I do not understand what companies means when they say "responsibly sourced". People need jobs and salaries, but not at the cost of their own environment & health.


Water is a tricky thing. Take almonds for example. One almond takes about 4 liters of water to produce. With 1.6 billion pounds of almonds grown per year we're looking at almost 2.5 trillion liters of water. This is just one nut. Pistachios and walnuts use similar amounts of water, so do other things we eat like broccoli.

I blame Coca-Cola and their ilk for the obesity epidemic, but water shortages are more caused by farming and climate change than they are by breweries or bottling plants.

> One almond takes about 4 liters of water to produce

How long does it take for that water to re-enter the ecosystem in a usable way? Water isn't just destroyed, yeah?

Water planning is definitely worthwhile, but seems there are a few other variables in play.

> How long does it take for that water to re-enter the ecosystem in a usable way?

It depends on where you got the water from. If you got it from a river or lake, probably "until the next time it rains". If you got it from an aquifer, then it depends on how long it takes water to filter down into the aquifer, assuming it can do so at all.

> Water isn't just destroyed, yeah?

In the case of aquifers it actually can be, effectively. Per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquifer#Human_dependence_on_gr... second paragraph:

  Fresh-water aquifers, especially those with limited recharge by
  snow or rain, also known as meteoric water, can be over-exploited
  and depending on the local hydrogeology, may draw in non-potable
  water or saltwater intrusion from hydraulically connected aquifers
  or surface water bodies. This can be a serious problem, especially
  in coastal areas and other areas where aquifer pumping is excessive.
  In some areas, the ground water can become contaminated by arsenic
  and other mineral poisons.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogallala_Aquifer#Aquifer_water... is a worthwhile read with specific numbers for a specific aquifer that illustrates some of the possible problems.

All of which is to say that in some places (and in particular in much of the Western US) water may closer to a non-renewable resource than a renewable one if it comes from an aquifer. At least on years-to-decades timescales.

An interesting case is the state of Georgia, which periodically makes nose about disputing its boundaries with Alabama and Tennessee, in order to move the boundary far enough to access the water of the Tennessee River. It has been many years since the lakes and resovoirs in northern Georgia have been "full" and I believe the Atlanta metropolitan area users more water normally than it recovers from rain.

Most is lost to evaporation, which rains out in a relatively short time somewhere else. The problem is that the water used frequently comes from either groundwater, leaving users downstream with a deficit, or deep aquifers, which take a very long time to recharge.

1KG of beef uses 3X as much.

As one almond?

per kg

> Pistachios and walnuts use similar amounts of water, so do other things we eat like broccoli.

What does this really mean though? In New England we have Walnut trees growing everywhere, and no one is watering them. If anything they're locking water into the soil that would otherwise just evaporate.

Those walnut trees are growing because of rainwater. They're not a problem. And if farmed nuts we're grown in similar locations, that would also be fine.

But most almonds and pistachios are grown in a desert, with water extracted from ground-water aquifers. Without the wells, the almonds would not grow.

I don't think the central valley of California is classified as a desert, it may be dry in the summer but it's not a desert.

The southern part is. Further north, it's classified as a Mediterranean climate. I'd suggest the western side is a desert as well. It's only possible to grow crops there by importing water from the northern part of the state. With out that water, it would look like dry mountains to the immediate west along I-5. It only averages a few inches of rain per year.

Looking at https://www.weather.gov/nerfc/normals it looks like you'd be hard-pressed to find places in New England that averages less than, say, 30" of rain a year.

Problems start when people grow walnuts in places that average 10" a year....

It means that we grow things in California that have no business growing in California.

Not on commercial scales. According to the wiki, California's Central valley produces 99% of the commercial crop and the US is the largest exporter and second largest producer.

Also, those trees aren't locking water anywhere. They are probably releasing the same amount per tree to evaporation.

Beef uses 4 times the amount, and pretty much all meat. Targeting almonds is disingenuous

Almonds are a particular problem because they're mostly (80% of global supply) grown in Southern California where water is scarce. I'm a vegetarian for environmental reasons, so I've switched from almonds to peanuts.

Besides water, California almonds are one of, if not the largest problem facing managed honeybees in the United States, due to the the agricultural practices of this industry and need to migrate in almost 2 million hives annually (first answer here has some good details: https://www.quora.com/Is-it-true-that-almonds-are-not-vegan).

If you care about protecting our managed pollinators, giving up almonds is a good first step. I have also switched to peanuts.

I sort of thought Almonds was _the_ reason we have migrating honeybees in the United States (or North America). In any case Zaiger Genetics have bred self-fertile Almonds that don't require bees. The trees are starting to be planted: http://www.growingproduce.com/nuts/self-fertile-almond-domin... Almond trees take a significant amount of time to mature. While orchards can be retrofitted the irrigation infrastructure is typically installed before the trees are planted. This means that the water use of an orchard currently producing almonds was probably designed in the 90s. All the new orchards I see being planted are using drip. In 2030 I suspect the water use per kg of almonds will be much lower than it is today.

Farming isn't the problem, manufacturing isn't the problem. Water rights & water law is the problem. Nobody pays a fair market price for water, whether ground or rain water, and until then we will continue to see squandering & rampant abuse.

The tricky part is ownership. Who owns groundwater? Who owns rainwater?

I assume you're specifically talking about farming those in semi-arid or desert climates like california. I think it's not the watering per se that's the problem, it's growing things in a desert without having a sustainable water management plan.

Same with palm oil. Vast swaths of rainforest are being cleared for palm trees, damaging watersheds and endangering countless species.

As a general rule, it's best to get your macronutrients from sustainable sources. In other words, eat peanuts instead of almonds, and eat olives instead of palm or coconut oil (unless you have allergies or other health issue preventing that). Avoid the high-labor, resource-intensive fad foods.

Two thoughts:

1. We need food, we don't need soda. So food will always get a priority for resources, thus its heavy water usage more excusable. Farming uses a lot of water, its just a given, and we need farming to survive. Raising beef actually is much more wasteful than almonds, for example. Almost all farming requires large amounts of water.

2. Rural irrigation is a bit different than urban irrigation. They may draw on their own springs and wells or impact less people with water restrictions due to low density rural populations. Plants in or near urban areas can impact millions of people. Worse, urban areas need to be kept clean or hygeine goes out the window then come the superbugs, epidemics, etc. If we ration urban water too strongly in favor of soft drinks, then that means less showering, baths, street cleaning, etc which isn't good for society.

Last time this topic came up, someone mentioned working in a cheese processing plant that used at least 4x as much water as a typical bottling factory. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that paper mills, steel mills, etc also use way more.

Are the 4 liters of water being shot out to space?

Waste water, unless the plant is specifically setup to recycle it's water waste, tends to eventually end up in the ocean. Dumping fresh water in the ocean is reasonably close to shooting it out into space. (Of course nature will reclaim it from the ocean for you over time.)

Neither in the case of Coca-Cola. Somebody is going to pee that back to the earth.

And depending on the local geology, it will take anywhere between months and thousands of years for that ex-Coke to get to a water body, evaporate, precipitate, and infiltrate back into the aquifer. It's very easy for the rate of extraction of a particular aquifer to exceed the rate of replenishment.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_conductivity water moves through porous material at rates varying from 300 m/day (mixture of gravel and sand) to 3 mm/day (clay, sandstone).

EDIT: arithmetic.

Commercial desalination is quite expensive. Natural desalination is quite slow and mostly inconvenient.

This exact situation in Venezuela made me think Hugo Chávez was not always completely nuts with some of his ideas.

He was sick of multinationals like Coke buying water for a couple of cents a mega-liter. Coke would then add some sugar and color to it before selling it back to the people for dollars per liter. The expensive purification of that water was paid for by tax revenue.

Chávez decided this was not right, and put an extremely heavy tax on multi-nationals buying "resources" from Venezuela and doing that.

Personally, I think the world would be a better place if that was the law everywhere.

On a related note, Juneau, the capital of Alkasa needs a new water purification plant, theirs is running beyond capacity. The proposal was to increase tax so everyone pays for it. It came to light Holland-America (cruise line) buys millions of gallons for a tiny, tiny fraction of the price that locals pay. When it was suggested to Holland-America they should pay a little more to help fund the new purification plant, Holland-America simply threatened to stop bringing cruise ships to Juneau. So now the residents pay more tax so that Holland-America can continue to buy millions of gallons for much cheaper than the locals pay!

He identified a real problem (that part is not hard as no country is short of easily identifiable problems), the problem was he using it as base/narrative to gain more personal power and influence, instead of solving the problem for the country's benefit.

The problem with third-world countries is not that the political elite fails to identify problems, it is that they use this to gain more power through populism or they use it to gain more money through corruption.

Yeah populism in third world counties. What do you call whats happening in the US and Europe.

In first world countries, populism is often triggered by government overreach.

In third world countries, populism is often triggered by promising people finances from government coffers.

That is why you see populism in Brazil, Venezuela, etc cause the government to overexpand, grow corrupt, and eventually start to implode. First world countries have self sufficient people who would prefer more freedoms, third world countries have people who rely on the government to meet their basic needs.

I disagree with this assumption. I believe what differs first and third world countries is the strength of institutions, not the belief of their individual people. There is diversity among developed countries regarding the role of the government, but the similarity is that institutions are more mature and are more respected.

>In third world countries, populism is often triggered by promising people finances from government coffers.

I disagree. Voting for the guy who will bring in job subsidies, factory subsidies, farm subsidies, government investment in rural areas, government contracts, federal projects, etc to your area is absolutely finances from the government coffers and one of, if not the largest, campaign issue during the 2016 US presidential race.

>third world countries have people who rely on the government to meet their basic needs.

Most of rural America, nearly 50m people, would collapse overnight if not for farm subsidies, factory job creation tax credits, and all manner of welfare. Even with all these things the rural poverty rate is almost 20%. Poor parts of urban America are almost as bad.

I think you're dismissing how poor much of America is and how much these people depend on the government to survive.

I don't have an opinion about what's happening in the US and Europe.

Cities along the Inside Passage are miniscule and would basically not exist if not for cruise ship revenue, so that makes sense.

That said, they probably could have called Holland America's bluff. But I'm sure they had good cause for not wanting to take that risk.

> Cities along the Inside Passage are miniscule and would basically not exist if not for cruise ship revenue, so that makes sense.

You know these cities existed long, long before cruise ships, right?

Also there are plenty of them (Haines comes to mind) actively fighting to keep cruise ships OUT. It ain't all sunshine and roses.

I really don't think you can put Hugh Chávez into any argument about making the world a better place. Venezuela is a disaster, and the human suffering is inexcusable.

Yeah its Chavez's fault. No mention of sanctions, sanctions. The people who are obsessed with sanctions don't care about the humantarian impact as long as they get what they want.

On a related note, the Trump administration exempted Venezuelan state owned oil company Citgo from the recent round of American sanctions.

Citgo happens to employ former Trump campaign advisors as lobbyists.


He is talking about a policy, not Chavez. The fact that lot of Chavez's policies were disastrous doesn't mean this one in particular was bad.

The disastrous policies. Could you name them?. Before he died, as afar as i know, Venezuela was getting on just fine. Whats disastrous is Maduro much like the one running the US. Both stupid

It's frequently pointed out Chávez didn't invest as much in modernizing PDVSA and production eventually fell. As oil prices crashed, the reduced production became a problem as it can't be expanded quickly enough without substantial investments.

But this is what I heard from an analyst and we must consider some information loss because this is far from my core expertise.

Lots of capitalistic countrys have suffering citizens, but there is there private fault, because they dont work hard enough. We all know the various ideologys immunity declarations. I wish there was a downvote for boring.

> This exact situation in Venezuela made me think Hugo Chávez was not always completely nuts with some of his ideas.

Well, they were protecting environmental travesties before and after; the only difference was that he got a greater cut.

In fairness, the cruise visitors to Juneau do spend a fair bit of money there.

If you have ever been, you would see 99.9% of cruise passengers stay down the end of town designed for them, where the ships dock.

Guess who owns the vast majority of shops there!......

Yup! Holland-America!

(Friends tried to open a jewellery shop in Skagway, AK and didn't want to pay the kick-backs Holland-America demanded.... so Holland-America just warns people on the ships not to shop there .. "We heard someone got ripped off.. " etc. Out of business in less than one season!)

Not to play down the injustice, but it seems like you'd be able to prove a defamy case for the cost of one cruise. Alternately, you could prove a whole class of defamy cases if there are other businesses affected.

This would work if you would have tons of money, I am looking at Intel case where the evidence is clear and the process is taking years,then someone appeals, some minor issue is found and everything needs to start over, it is hard to fight against a big corporation.

Defamation occurring and proving a case are notably different events, never mind the difficulties of proving damages (many businesses fold or make no profit in the first year even without defamation), and the cost of litigation.

How do you prove it?

Holland-America are not officially printing brochures or anything like that.. they're a just using word of mouth.

If it ever went to court, I am certain they could just say "yeah, we heard it was true..."

There is just no way that the ship will skip Juneau no matter what the city does. It is too important of a port.

I spent on a tour, a ride, and on beer, easily a hundred in all. There are many ways to spend.

I spend easily a hundred on dinner for my family in one sitting. That doesn't mean it props up the economy where I live nor is it a way to justify an argument about an entire economy in a city you visited once.

"Fairness" is a funny word to use for opting out of an open market and extracting subsidies through coercion instead.

The article is not very clear. It looks like most of the problem is caused by population grow, without good infrastructure. Not by Coca-Cola.

Also, this is misleading:

> FEMSA reports that it uses 56.9 billion liters of water a year in its operations across Latin America. In Mexico, the company holds 40 water permits.

The 56.9 billon liters seams to be a lot and it is a lot, but it's the total in Latin America. But this number is not related to the problem in Chiapas. How much water does the plant in Chiapas use?

It says:

"The Chiapas branch of Conagua confirmed to Truthout that the company has permits for two wells to extract a total of 499,918 cubic meters of water per year, or 499.9 million liters. In 2016, the company extracted 78.8 percent of the permitted total."

(Conagua is the National Water Comission)

from the article :

> The plant consumed over 1.08 million liters of water per day in 2016.

This article is just exploiting our desire to hate corporations.

What ever amount of water Coca-cola is taking it is surely a drop in the bucket compared to other uses of water. More likely it is a problem of water being contaminated for other causes. Chiapas is in the middle of the rainforest. They get 120 inches of rainfall a year. In any case their problem is that they get too much rain.

This is exactly what it is. 1.08 million liters of water, sounds like a lot, but needs to be put into context of other uses of water.

Agriculture is one of the biggest uses of water. The average US irrigated farm uses 1.6 [0] acre-feet of water per acre of land. Since 1.08 million liters is ~0.9 acre-feet of water. Coca-Cola is using 319.6 acre-feet of water a year which is equivalent water usage, in average, to an 178 acre farm. This is a very modest farm.

This wasn't Coca-Cola we were talking about, but a small 178 acre family farm. This discussion wouldn't be happening.

If you want to complain about Coca-Cola, fine. Perhaps attack it business practices or its contribution to obesity, but it is disingenuous to attack its use of water, when the amount of water used is a very small fraction of farm and industrial uses of water.

[0] - https://ageconomists.com/2015/04/20/acres-and-acre-feet-a-lo...

Thanks to put it in numbers, I didn't know where to start. But I know that I use a LOT more water than what I drink.

Certainly their contribution to obesity is major reason to complain about Coca-Cola.

I have some family in McCloud, CA. Apparently this was a big concern when Nestle came to town and wanted their water. There ended up being a big legal battle, but in the end the town won [1]. I forget all of the details, but there was some shadiness on Nestle's part. They initially told people the new water plant would bring jobs back to the town, but when residents looked into it, they discovered almost everything would be automated, and only a hand full of new jobs would be created.

[1] http://www.alternet.org/story/142645/after_6-year_battle%2C_...

> They initially told people the new water plant would bring jobs back to the town, but when residents looked into it, they discovered almost everything would be automated, and only a hand full of new jobs would be created.

Why didn't they just make it part of the contract?

Speaking of Nestle and water, I'm reminded of this old interview with their (then) CEO Peter Brabeck:

https://youtu.be/GmOZL-jNH-s?t=124 (english subs)

Difference in this case being that government officials in Chiapas are corrupt as f, and there is basicly no recourse for the public. Chiapas also head to head with Oaxaca in the race to be the poorest state in Mexico,. Some of the towns most affected by the disaster are being described to me as "looking like it's been shelled to shit" by my doctor friend who travelled there to help out however she could.

I will probably head over there next week with provisions, as there is no government help at all.

I get this is a mindless junk article, but this statement is ridiculous right?

"Surely the earthquake damaged underground caves in the aquifer, which could impact aquifer recharge in the future,"

You could give them the benefit of the doubt on a translation error, but no mainstream paper would be this sloppy.

Another big issue is that Coca-Cola is an addiction in Mexico, The government knows it, Coca-Cola Inc. knows it but it seems that our people don't seem to care, taxes had been imposed on sugar watered beverages but nothing change, actually, the consumption went up (I don't have the numbers right now), so, as long as we still have this idea that this kind of beverages are "ok" we are still empowering companies like this to do as they please with this resources.

I'm not very fond of the Mexican government, and believe me, if companies approach them they will be willing to sell even the air we breathe. But we have to put our part to stop empowering this multi-nationals to do as they please.

While Coca-Cola deserves a great deal of blame for this (obviously), surely the bigger part of the blame should go to the local government for allowing them to do this? Isn't the people, and therefore the government, sovereign? Or are there some laws/constitutional issues that would prevent the government from restricting Coca-Cola in taking all the water?

By the way, this is why corporate-written and corrupt treaties such as TPP and TTIP can be so dangerous if they end-up preventing national governments from putting such restrictions against multi-national companies.

Another thought: expect more of this to happen when corporations start being run by AI - a lot more. A corporation is already an inhuman entity that's highly biased towards "increasing profits at all costs" without regard for much else. An AI-run corporation would be a supercharged version of that.

People who also "can't wait to be governed by their AI overlords" should take the same thing into consideration.

The issue is that Coca-Cola et al, in practice, have enough power that they can cause problems for Governments which don't allow them to do what they want. Concentration of money is nearly precisely equivalent to concentration of power. And then you have international trade agreements and Governments willing to back this status quo up.

This reminds me about the banana industry, I read about governments being changed by US but I can't find anything now on google since there are tons of articles about the "banana wars" where poor countries are exploited by big corporation that are aided by US gov(because politician get lot of donations from banana industry. My point is that even non-corrupt countries could be fed by companies.

Can an engineer chime in? I'm sure Coca Cola doesn't want this bad publicity and I assume that if a few dozen villagers gather at the plant every day it will get worst for them.

My question, is there any way to estimate the ground water? Why did the build there, or is the rate of extraction is really high?

edit: apparently over there they get some 3000mm a year rain!!

Could be worse. It's not like a golf course resort is sucking up the water supply. Most of the water that goes into a Coke plant comes out in the product.

Isn't this also related to climate change? Given the rate climate is getting warmer, it has been long predicted there will be shortages of drinking water and wells will be drying up as well as vast green areas of today will turn into desserts. Water will be cause of military conflicts in the future I believe. It will be more valuable than oil.

At least it has electrolytes.

No problem. They can water their plants with Gatorade.

Resist the Right-Wing Machine!!

I drink your milk shake.

Why did somebody just change the title here on HN from the original 'Coca-Cola Sucks Wells Dry in Chiapas, Forcing Residents to Buy Water'?

HN has a rule against sensationalised headlines.

Hopefully because its a gross title. It should be more like "Local government sells to coca-cola most of its water forcing residents to buy water"


Please post substantively here or not at all.


Do you really want to live in a world without Coca-Cola? -- WW

Water is a scarce resource.

A market system is the objectively the best mechanism for allocating scarce resources.

(Of course, if you object to a pure market system, the government can regulate the market and subsidize residential tap water.)

Why isn't water priced accordingly?

> Water is a scarce resource.

Water is not scarce! We got plenty. The model of water being a limited resource we have to save does not represent an economic reality.

We have an entire planet worth of water and we are not shooting it out to space. We know how to use it, how to clean it, etc. We will never run out of water. We might run out of 'free' water, but thats the whole point of using a resource, consuming it.

Water may not be scarce (with some exceptions), but potable water certainly is. In most of the world and throughout most of history, potable water has always been a very valuable commodity.

Particularly in the case of aquifer depletion, it's a very real issue. There may well be a large reserve of potable water available, but once it's used it may take hundreds, thousands, or millions of years to naturally replenish. Aquifers are often not a renewable resource on human timescales.

If water isn't scarce, why complain that Coca-Cola is using so much?

I wonder what could someone extract from coca-cola for their own self interest.

> Why isn't water priced accordingly?

Are you OK with your family dying of thirst if you can't pay for water?

It beats my family dying of thirst because of government policy - enforced by legions of armed agents, if necessary - prevents my access to it.

If the price of water is artificially set below market value, then demand is higher and supply is lower than it would otherwise be. If it costs $3 / gallon to transport water to where I live, and the government sets the price of water at $2 / gallon, guess what? No one transports water to where I live. Without that intervention, water might cost $4 / gallon, but at least it's available.

What if nobody needs to die of thirst because drinking water is considered an inalienable right?

This is exactly, why I use functional programming language and prefer Pespsi even tho it tastes bit worse.

The facadian distance between Pespsi and Cocola water molecules is about 10nm which makes Pepsi efficient in terms of water requirements.

If only Coke fans got that right, maybe one day...

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact