A team from The Coca-Cola Company recently spent a day in Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas to film a segment for EARTH, a national television series, to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the company’s partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF). While the film focuses on the Rio Grande, it also gives viewers a glimpse of the interdependence of communities and nature to water and why protecting and preserving watersheds are of critical importance to Coca-Cola.
When Coca-Cola and WWF teamed up in 2007, the two partners decided to focus on priority watersheds that face series challenges where Coke’s support can help make a big impact.
“WWF believes a global partnership is needed to protect our planet’s freshwater ecosystems. Global partnerships, like our long-term partnership with The Coca-Cola Company, enables broader collaboration and allow us to leverage collective expertise and support to achieve greater results at larger scales,” explains Mark Briggs, senior program officer with WWF’s Fresh Water Program.
A Challenged Ecosystem
The Rio Grande is in critical need of support. One of America’s great rivers, it’s the source of fresh water for more than 10 million people in the U.S. and Mexico. Flowing nearly 2,000 miles from its headwaters in Colorado and New Mexico down to the Gulf of Mexico, it has long supported the communities, economies and diverse native species along its path. The critical watershed supports 1,200 species of plants, 450 species of birds and 75 species of mammals.
In recent years, the condition of the river and its tributaries have deteriorated dramatically due to climate change, unrelenting demand on its water resources, and a host of other human-related impacts. The decline in river conditions is threatening native species and riverside human communities that rely on the river for their well-being. Parts of the river have gone completely dry in recent years.
An additional threat to the Rio Grande is an invasive plant called giant cane, which has established in dense, almost impenetrable strands along many parts of the river. In addition to outcompeting native species, giant cane holds back soil that would normally be washed downstream. As a result, the river’s banks are growing, and the channel is narrowing. These changes in channel conditions are burying high-quality riparian and aquatic habitat, as well as reducing the capacity of the channel to hold water, which has increased the frequency that riverside towns and infrastructure are damaged by flooding. These issues have made the eradication of giant cane a conservation priority for improving river conditions for people and wildlife.
In partnership with WWF and the U.S. Forest Service, Coca-Cola is working to remove giant cane and other invasive species. Since 2012, the company has helped to restore more than 42 miles of riverbank and improved the natural hydrology of the river channel and the aquatic habitat. This work is helping to restore natural habitat, improve water availability and curb flood damage.
“We’re proud of this project and so many others around the globe that are focused on helping to ensure that our watersheds are sustainable, healthy resources for our communities. We’re committed to continuing our journey with our partners as we work to return to nature all the water we use in our beverages and their production year over year,” said Jon Radtke, director, water sustainability, Coca-Cola North America.
Projects like this one in the Rio Grande support Coke’s work to replenish every drop of water it uses in its beverages and their production and return it to nature and communities. The company first achieved this water replenishment goal in 2015 –five years ahead of target and has continued this achievement every year since.