Before you make a disapproving (fish) face, rest assured Coca-Coca is not introducing a trout-flavored beverage into its portfolio. Rather, Coca-Cola is partnering with Trout Unlimited (TU) to help support the health of ecosystems and communities where it operates, and ensure it grows a sustainable business.

Founded in 1959, TU’s mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America's cold-water fisheries and their watersheds. What does that have to do with Coca-Cola? As the world’s largest beverage company, Coca-Cola relies on water as the main ingredient in the majority of its products and depends on water to produce them. Safe, accessible water is also essential to the health of communities, critical to ecosystems and indispensable for economic prosperity—all things the sustainability of Coca-Cola requires.

With a shared vision of healthy waterways and improved livelihoods, benefiting people, nature and businesses, TU and Coca-Cola work together on water conservation projects in Montana, New Mexico and Utah.

“Today, conservation organizations and companies recognize the benefit of working together to achieve mutual goals. Public-private partnerships like the ones between TU, Coca-Cola, and state and federal programs are creating smart solutions to age-old problems, demonstrating that innovations in water management can improve everyone’s bottom line,” said Laura Ziemer, Senior Counsel and Water Policy Advisor, Trout Unlimited. “Coca-Cola has provided resources, but also the influence and leadership required to change the mindset and actions negatively impacting river functions. Communities, people and other businesses better understand the connection between their deeds and water resources and are becoming part of the solution.”  

For four years, the TU partnership has been contributing to The Coca-Cola Company’s 2020 global water stewardship goal to replenish 100 percent of the water used in its finished beverages back to communities and nature. When complete, Coca-Cola and TU projects are estimated to replenish an estimated 14.5 billion liters of water a year, with Coca-Cola’s contribution 3.7 billion liters.

“Investing in water and communities is smart business for Coca-Cola. We don’t jump in on just any project with anyone. We’re interested in strategic, result-oriented projects with capable and respected partners, and that is what we have with Trout Unlimited,” said Jon Radtke, Water Sustainability Program Director, Coca-Cola North America. “Working with TU in Montana and other key locations is delivering results that are good for the environment, for people’s livelihoods and ultimately good for our business. You can see it in the landscape, the relationships and the numbers—all areas that truly count.”

One of the largest projects for Coca-Cola and TU has been in the Sun River in Montana. A collaboration that also included the Fort Shaw Irrigation District, the Sun River Watershed Group and the Bureau of Reclamation, this project has created a better future for the river and the producers who rely on its water.

Diverted river flow for agricultural irrigation had left the areas of the Sun River dry and its wild trout fishery vulnerable. After a decade of discussion, analysis, project identification, and feasibility studies, a broad group of stakeholders under the umbrella of the Sun River Watershed Group decided that the solution would be to convert a leaky ditch to a lined pipe, and re-route a portion to relieve pressure from a sensitive bottleneck in water delivery. While it sounds somewhat simple, the project required a lot. Coca-Cola matched federal and state funding to install 2,000 feet of new lined canal, 2,310 feet of new PVC pipe, retire an old section of irrigation ditch, and convert 4,860 feet of open ditch to PVC pipe. But the rewards were even bigger: 11.7 billion liters of water added to the flow of Sun River each year. With river flows restored and agricultural water delivered, agriculture, downstream water users and the Sun River’s wild trout all benefitted. There are now twice as many wild trout in the Sun River than there were before the project. 

In the southwestern United States, Coca-Cola and TU are working with the U.S. Forest Service and other partners in New Mexico’s Comanche Creek to restore floodplain connectivity, groundwater recharge and wetland integrity, and protect the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. To date, stream channel restoration improved 132 acres of the wetland area, important habitat for the trout, and the overall health of the creek and its connected waterways.

Due northwest, in Utah, Coca-Cola, TU and Bonneville Environment Foundation are partnering in the East Fork Bear River on an irrigation diversion improvement project. By restoring natural flows over a seven-mile stretch and improving connectivity across over 80 miles of habitat, this project will benefit fish migration, with particular interest for the Bonneville cutthroat trout, and is expected to permanently restore well over 3 billion liters of water per year to this critical, dewatered reach.

Ziemer says, “When companies, organizations and government discover they have a common goal and work together, results are maximized for each partner and for the project. We’ve experienced that in Montana and now we’re seeing it in New Mexico and Utah. Combining our strengths delivers stronger results for nature.”