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Dispatch / Water Wars / September 9, 2009

Dr Pepper - Victorville City Water Sports


VICTORVILLE, Calif. — On a sun-baked afternoon in October 2008, a group of soft-drink executives and city officials gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony at an old Air Force base on the outskirts of the city, 100 miles east of Los Angeles.

They were standing on the edge of the Mojave Desert, one of the driest, most inhospitable terrains in America. Yet there they were, posing for photographs, gold-plated shovels in hand, to mark the construction of a massive new bottling plant and distribution hub for the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, a facility that will suck up hundreds of millions of gallons of water a year from this water-scarce area to supply soft drinks to 20 percent of its domestic market.

A bottling plant in the middle of the desert? It sounds too absurd to be real. But in the warped “pro-growth, pro-business” logic of a city on the frontier of Southern California’s urban sprawl, the plan made perfect economic sense.

If the scheme is pulled off without a hitch, Dr Pepper will fire up one of its biggest production nodes in America sometime near the end of 2010.

The $120 million plant will occupy 57 acres, with 200 low-skilled workers manning almost 1 million square feet of warehouse space. Using 250 million gallons of water a year, six production lines will crank out 350,000 gallons worth of liquid refreshments a day, shipping perennial soft-drink favorites like Dr Pepper, Snapple, 7UP, A&W, Hawaiian Punch and 50 other brands all across the West Coast and Southwest.

The Victorville plant was a steal for the beverage manufacturer, receiving tens of millions of dollars in subsidies from the city. Local officials have painted it as a win-win situation, talking up the jobs and tax revenue it will bring to a community hard-hit by the recession and housing market collapse.

Yet, no one has seriously addressed the big wet elephant in the room: water. Where will it come from, and at what cost to the local population?

California is on the verge of a water-related calamity. For the past three years, the state has been in the grips of a devastating drought. Up and down the Golden State, water deliveries have been cut by more than half of the normal allotment.

In the fertile Central Valley, the bosom of America’s agricultural powerhouse, fields stand fallow because of water rationing. Farmers are losing their jobs, lines for emergency food rations are becoming a common sight, and some agricultural communities are going bust for lack of water.

The scenes are eerily reminiscent of the Dust Bowl. The situation has become dire enough for the Obama administration to say “California’s ongoing water crisis is a major national priority, akin to restoring the Chesapeake Bay or Florida’s Everglades.”

But as far as Victorville is concerned, this drought might as well be happening on Mars.

“This is a great day for High Desert residents,” City Councilman Terry Caldwell said at the plant’s groundbreaking ceremony. “When a company like Dr Pepper Snapple chooses Victorville for its new West Coast facility, it means we have arrived, and others will follow. This means hundreds of new jobs for our local residents.”

Victorville, a sprawling commuter exurb of Los Angeles, is a pro-growth, pro-business city. Its free-market free-for-all approach to governance and abundance of cheap unexploited land made it the second-fastest-growing city in 2007.

Fueled by securitized subprime mortgages, its population doubled to 100,000 in less than a decade, and the city swelled with some of the cheapest tract-home developments in California.

Most of the growth was built on empty promises. Victorville was supposed to become the industrial and manufacturing capital of Southern California. Now completely bankrupt, the city has some of the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in California, with home prices shrinking to 1989 levels.

To Victorville officials, the advantages of job growth, no matter how minuscule, far outweigh any concerns over the increased water use. But some locals are not convinced that the plant is such a good idea. Because no matter how you slice it, corporate interests and political ambitions come out as the only real winners.

Victorville is the biggest and most powerful of the half-dozen closely packed cities and towns and smaller unincorporated desert communities that make up Victor Valley. The 350,000 people who call this place home are a varied bunch — ex-military types, retirees, lower-income subprime mortgage fodder — but they are all linked by a common and very limited resource.

“How does what happens in Victorville affect the rest of us? The water that we have in this valley is a shared resource that is supposed to be controlled by a California Supreme Court ruling,” says Paul Bosecki, a council member for the city Hesperia, Victorville’s neighbor. “Victorville has made more than a few bad choices lately. The full-speed ahead, pedal-to-the-metal attitude has consequences when it fails to deliver. It comes down to public interest versus private interest, with the public interests such as water for the residents of this valley coming after Victorville’s business ambitions.”

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27 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Tam  |  September 9th, 2009 at 3:18 am

    Another fascinating article, Yasha.
    The situation sounds like yet another particuarly moronic game of chicken between ‘free market’/ business-always-knows-best ideaology and geological realities. My money is on the latter, but i suppose the important question is, what timeframe will it play out in?

  • 2. Tam  |  September 9th, 2009 at 3:22 am

    Also, people who found this article interesting ought to watch the film Chinatown which touches on similar issues, (as well as being a brilliant film anyway) if you haven’t already…

  • 3. KKKK is 4 kkknowledge  |  September 9th, 2009 at 6:28 am

    I remember when I started college in the early 90’s in California how worked up the green priesthood and all the fraudulent commie professors were about the drought we were having then. Global warming! The sky is falling! Everybody must stop driving/watering lawns/breathing immediately. A few years later we were breaking century old snow pack records in the Sierras and they were worried about the Folsom dam overflowing. Don’t listen to the climate nuts. It’s just weather.

  • 4. Mads Mikkelsen  |  September 9th, 2009 at 8:47 am

    They moved to a desert and made a desert.

  • 5. Dave  |  September 9th, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Sure it’s just weather, but it’s obviously unstable weather. Drought to massive precipitation, and back to drought in what, 15 years? Either way it’s not a good place to build a facility that is going to add that much pressure onto an already sketchy system.

    Besides. Surface water is not the same as water in an aquifer. Aquifer water regenerates a lot more slowly than surface water can.

  • 6. geo8rge  |  September 9th, 2009 at 9:31 am

    I guess if you wanted to explain it on rational grounds you would compare water leakage and evaporation along the canal to LA to the cost of trucking soft drinks to LA.

    There might be other arguments dealing with electricity and a possible future cap and trade ‘taxation'(*) scheme. I can imagine solar + carbon capture scams in the high desert.

    The real crazy idea? Building an LA in a desert. Who thought that up?

    You forgot to comment that fat Chicano kids in LA really do not need the calories. And the few remaining California blonds, don’t want them.

    * I apologize for calling cap and trade a tax. It is really a fee for the damage I am causing. Sorry.

  • 7. twentyeight  |  September 9th, 2009 at 10:47 am

    I could have sworn this was all in some movie with Jack Nicholson. “Once as tragedy, twice as farce” indeed.

  • 8. aleke  |  September 9th, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    DuuhUHuhuh its just weather, Zletceta. Do not believe these lies, growth now growth forever! [Does a rain dance as rioting Maya peasants draw near]

  • 9. Brad  |  September 9th, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    I know 700,000 gallons a day sounds like a lot, but that’s only three acre-feet per day. If 70 percent is “conserved”, then that nets only one acre-foot per day. A 160 acre field of alfalfa takes approximately 1 and three quarter acre feet per day, averaged over one year.

    I grew up on my family’s farm. Irrigated agriculture consumes a massive amount of water, and provides a small number of low paying, back-breaking jobs in exchange.

    Just wanted to offer some perspective.

  • 10. Dan  |  September 9th, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    The real tragedy is building an aqueduct system and basing the survival of an entire population on the concept that water will be transported at stated quantities. Then after 40 years of supplying water, to grow agriculture and communities, having a wracked out judge decide to turn off the pumps because of a possibility that a fish will suffer.

    Some things are just wrong and pulling the plug on the California Aqueduct system is a travesty.

  • 11. eric  |  September 9th, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    good article, my compliments.

  • 12. Fissile  |  September 9th, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    This kind of thing has been taking place all over the US for decades now. Major auto companies built factories in the the redneck states after getting the politicians to agree to monster giveaways of public money. If no one was outraged then, what makes you think they’ll be outraged now?

    Here’s something else that really gets my goat. “Victorville proper is not as keen on conservation. The city is not trying to sell the desert lifestyle, but attempts to re-create the suburban ideal of green lawns, lush trees and golf courses.”

    Why the fuck do people move to a desert, and then try to make the place look like Paramus, New Jersey?

    I’m convinced that Russian satellites have been beaming stupid rays down on the USA for the past 40 years.

  • 13. DocAmazing  |  September 9th, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Forget it, Dan. The water was over-promised; the agricuature is wasatefula nd absurd (some of these idiots are trying to put rice paddies in desert areas–they’re that profligate and stupid), and the fish that is suffering is called “salmon”–the Pacific salmon fishery is at its worst point in decades, and diversion from the Delta is the reason.

    When farmers live in homes without lawns and practice drip irrigation I’ll listen to your whine. Until then, they get to deal with the absence of a resource just like everyone else does–by doing without.

  • 14. Sin Fronteras  |  September 9th, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    @9 “Let them drink Coke! and eat cake . . .”

  • 15. Concerned Citizen  |  September 9th, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    This is why I’m glad to be living in the Great Lakes Region..specifically Wisconsin. All you poor bastards in the Southwest have a rough ride ahead of you–and don’t even think about stealing our water, you fucking animals.

    Luckly, we’ve already thought that scenario through with the Great Lakes Compact which ensures the water in the Great Lakes will only be used for those in the region. In fact, given the way climate change is occuring, Wisconsin could very well be the future capitol of our nation as DC goes underwater due to rising levels and as the Southwest becomes inhabitable thanks to drought that you idiots knew was coming but did nothing about. You faggots haha.

  • 16. Slashgod  |  September 9th, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    It’s just one percent of their water consumption, and think about the fossil fuel and energy saved in transportation of sugared water from another area.

  • 17. wengler  |  September 9th, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Great article.

    Which city councilman is going to use this to run for higher office with the slogan “He created jobs!”

    If someone built me a factory, gave me the keys, and told me I would never have to pay taxes on it I think I could make a pretty good go of it too. Meanwhile small businesses can’t even get a loan from the bank.

  • 18. Robert Hodge  |  September 10th, 2009 at 2:56 am

    I love how you idiots here call the merging of private business and government “Free Market.” In a true free market I highly doubt Dr. Pepper would be able to build this facility. But thanks to the government they can.

  • 19. bob  |  September 10th, 2009 at 3:29 am

    I love how people who depend on massive public subsidies (the california aqueduct was a public program) are the first to bitch about being pro-business and pro “free market.”

    More like, how much can we loot the public treasury while giving little in return.

  • 20. Tam  |  September 10th, 2009 at 7:57 am

    @18

    Well, duh! That’s why I put the term free market in quotes, to suggest I didn’t neccesarily agree with it.

    Apologies if this advanced grammatical technique was a bit too sophisticated for you to follow.

  • 21. Roll  |  September 10th, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Ha ha ha ha ha stupid americans, happy 9/11 to you !

  • 22. Sin Fronteras  |  September 10th, 2009 at 9:51 am

    @18 and @20 while you do the invisible hand job over the mythical free market, the rest of us will try our best to deal in the real world of capitalism as it actually exists.

    (Monetary) power begets (political) power. Individual capitalists never want more competition, they want to crush the rest of the competition. Always.

  • 23. az  |  September 10th, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Well don’t you know that money is the cause of poverty, Sin Fronteras?

    This article wasn’t too interesting though. I mean it outlines the public-private scam we all know about but as the environmental impact is only “The 250 million gallons of fresh water it uses over the course of one year would be enough to supply 1 percent of Victor Valley’s population,” it doesn’t seem that significant, unless that’s a typo.

  • 24. WB  |  September 10th, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Hello, I am ready to be an anonymous shill for my corporate overlords.

    PS: This is where I live:

    map

  • 25. Watertight Compartment  |  September 14th, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    I appreciate everything you do, I know my place and will only speak when spoken to.

  • 26. Mojave66  |  September 27th, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    I grew up in nearby Barstow, and this is giving me heartburn. The dwindling Mojave river (runs backwards, underground) is the only source water for all these aquifers, and it’s going to take a beating for a bottling plant that only provides 200 jobs?!

    Also, what’s happening with the dairy farms at the headwaters? I remember a huge controversy a few years’ back because what little water flowing downstream was contaminated from fecal bacteria. Given how the Inland Empire could care less about the Mojave, I’m betting nothing happened to clear that up.

    The “Best Stuff On Earth” indeed.

  • 27. Jimmy  |  October 17th, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    This is just another example of poorly allocated resources due to state control of water. Public ownership is always a bad idea. In other words, I support my corporate slave masters.


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