A Watering Hole for Businesses -- Fairfield's Supply is in Demand
By Nathan Halverson
The filter gallery at the North Bay Regional Water Treatment Plant. (Christine Baker/Daily Republic)
FAIRFIELD - Business executives contemplate a lot of factors when considering where to locate their business: political climate, tax incentives, freeway access, land, living costs and more.
One little-known factor, which is a significant consideration for many businesses in Fairfield, is water quality.
For food and beverage manufacturers, water quality can impact production and taste of their products. Fortunately, Fairfield has access to high-quality water from Lake Berryessa.
"Water is an important ingredient in beer, and the purity, quality and consistency of the water at our breweries is very important to us," said Kevin Finger, Fairfield plant manager for Anheuser Busch, in an e-mail.
Fairfield Mayor Harry Price credits the city's high water quality for attracting business to the city.
"B. Gale Wilson, the former city manager, convinced Anheuser Busch to locate here. It was the quality of the water and reliable supply that attracted them," Price said.
Good water quality attracted other manufacturers such as NRE Bento, which produces millions of organic bento boxes that are shipped to Japan, Price said.
"Water is always a big issue in the manufacturing industry," he said. "If you were to talk to folks in the candy industry in Fairfield, they'd tell you it's the water here."
Price credits those who had the foresight to build such an abundant, clean source of water.
"They recognized the economic value of a good reliable water supply," Price said.
The need for water
Water first became an issue in Solano County around the time of the gold rush in the 1850s. Some people realized that feeding the rapidly expanding gold towns, rather than trying to find a gold lode, was the best business venture.
But while the growing season in Solano County is more than 240 days a year, 90 percent of the rain usually falls in the month period of December, January and February, so the dry climate limited both the type and quantity of produce farmers could grow. For those with a steady supply of water - such as a nearby creek - irrigation proved a boon to profits. But the rest were stuck farming dry land.
"It is dry land that yields $300 to $400 per acre. If I had water, the yield per acre would double," said Solano farmer Charles Knickerbock in 1948, according to "The Solano Water Story" - a book published by the Solano Irrigation District, which helps manage the county's water supply.
Business people realized they needed to develop a steady supply for the county. They formed the Solano Water Council and tried to drum up support from other counties to dam the Putah Creek at a narrow point in the valley known as Devil's Gate.
Frank Douglas, a Vacaville resident who was on the council, tried to get other counties on board, but ran into resistance.
"I couldn't budge Napa or Yolo. There was a guy in Napa County who owned the block brick business and was buying up a lot of land. He didn't want the dam. The sheriff said if he caught me in town, again he'd put me in jail.
"In Yolo County, a few influential people were the controlling factors in the Clear Lake Water Company. The last thing they wanted was competition from a federally subsidized dam," Douglas said, according to "The Solano Water Story."
Eventually, with the support of local chambers of commerce and both the Mare Island Naval Base and Travis Air Force Base, the Monticello Dam was built at the Devil's Gate and Lake Berryessa was formed. Construction began in 1953 and was finished in 1957.
A good source
"Everybody wants the best source they can get," said Rick Wood, Assistant Public Works Director for Water in Fairfield. "The Lake Berryessa supply tends to be steady in its water quality."
He agrees it has attracted business to the area.
"It has had a positive economic effect going back to the Anheuser Busch brewery," he said.
William Ma, quality assurance manager for NRE Bento, said water impact is important to his company.
"It's very important because we cook the rice with the water," he said. "It's important that the water out of the tap is good."
NRE Bento uses about 20,000 gallons a day to prepare vegetables, cook rice and to clean equipment, Ma said.
The Japanese-based company took water samples and analyzed them to ensure they were of a high enough quality, according to city officials. The water passed the test.
"People in Fairfield don't have to buy bottled water. Our standards exceeds the standards for most bottled water," Price said. "It's just the result of intelligent, long-range planning."
Nathan Halverson can be reached at 427-6934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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