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MODESTO — California’s drought is in its fifth year. While that has prompted many businesses to change their operations, looking for ways to use water more efficiently has long been a priority in the Valley’s food manufacturing sector.
“It has always made good economic sense for manufacturers to carefully manage their water use,” said California Manufacturers & Technology Association President Dorothy Rothrock. “For decades they’ve been investing in water-saving technologies and best practices to significantly reduce water use.”
She added that California companies are more competitive because they’ve reduced their water bills and lowered energy costs used in water treatment or disposal.
Nestle’, for example, is transforming its Modesto milk factory into a “zero water” facility that won’t use any local freshwater resources for its operations.
“We apply a product life cycle approach … from farm to consumer,” said Nestle’ USA Director of Safety, Health and Environment Michael Desso. “Specific to our food and beverage business, we focus on water preservation, natural resources efficiency … and zero waste.”
The Modesto plant, which produces evaporated milk, is using technology developed at its zero-water plant in Mexico to extract water from milk which it then recycles and uses to make its dairy products.
“Technology we’ve already deployed successfully elsewhere in the world … will improve our water use efficiency, relieving pressure on California’s water resources,” Nestles’ Head of Operations Jose Lopez said in a report on its website.
Nestle’ estimates its Modesto plant will save nearly 63 million gallons of water annually, about 71 percent of the water it used in 2014. The company considers that a good return on the $7 million invested in the facility which is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.
Food and beverage manufacturing plays a major role in California’s economy, and the Central Valley is a manufacturing center. According to the California League of Food Processor’s 2012 report, the state’s food processing sector output was $221.4 billion.
The food and beverage sector generates 198,000 full and part-time jobs in California. In Stanislaus County, 24,922 people were employed in 2012, according to the report. In San Joaquin County, the number was 14,870.
They process tomatoes, peaches, pears, cherries, walnuts and produce assorted food products such as fruit cocktail. In addition, the Valley produces dairy products, wines, nuts, tomato paste and more.
Pacific Coast Producers, headquartered in Lodi, is a co-op and processor of a wide variety of foods. Its farmers reduce their water use depending on the crop. The company’s peach processing uses the latest water conservation methods.
“For example, stone fruit uses micro-spray irrigation and tomatoes use drip irrigation, both for efficiency,” said spokeswoman Mona Shulman. “Our growers have been focusing on water use and improving sustainability for at least the past five years,”
Industry-wide, water is recycled, often by using various filtration methods commonly dispersed over forage crops and landscaping.
Food and beverage processors decades-long focus on water conservation has coincided with their No. 1 goal of producing safe food..
“Using less water makes economic sense,” said California League of Food Processors CEO Rob Neenan. “Energy is needed to pump water around a facility so pumping less water to do the same job means money savings, makes the whole process more effective.”
Water efficiency is also a priority for wineries, which have invested heavily to reduce water use from the crush stage to bottling.
Modesto-based E&J Gallo, for example, began focusing on water conservation in 2012. The company has a team of 90 employees who have come up with myriad ways to change the way they work in order to save water.
Gallo’s Principal Engineer Keith Bader explained at the Central Valley Facilities Expo in 2015 that some changes were small, such as sweeping work areas rather than hosing them down.
Others, such as buying more water efficient equipment, required bigger investments. The goal, Bader said, was to increase the number of times water is used before it goes down the drain.
“We’ve been able to save millions of gallons by not using potable water but using an alternative indirect water source,” Bader said.