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DriWater closes, files bankruptcy

  • DriWater president Joseph Paternoster holds the company's moisture-releasing gel in this 2000 file photo. The Santa Rosa company filed for Chapter 7 liquidation in Santa Rosa's bankruptcy court late last month, listing nearly $7.5 million in debt and $213,000 in assets.

DriWater Inc., a 22-year-old Santa Rosa company that made slow-release gel packs for watering plants, has closed its doors after the recession cut sales to a trickle.

The company filed for Chapter 7 liquidation in Santa Rosa's bankruptcy court late last month, listing nearly $7.5 million in debt and $213,000 in assets.

“Housing was a big part of what we did,” said Joseph Paternoster, DriWater's president. When housing and other development slowed, so did DriWater's business, he said.

Founded in Santa Rosa in 1990, DriWater was a pioneering green technology, Paternoster said.

“We were growing trees and saving water,” he said. “Those are the technologies you want to keep alive.”

The water-filled packs were made with a patented, natural gel that gradually broke down when exposed to soil. The biodegradable containers slowly released water for up 90 days.

Small packs were sold to home gardeners who used them to keep their houseplants watered while they were away on vacation.

Larger containers were used by landscapers to help establish new plantings in places where automatic irrigation wasn't available, including new developments and highway median strips.

DriWater's customers included garden shops, hardware stores, landscaping businesses and irrigation supply companies.

Government agencies and nonprofit environmental restoration groups also purchased the product, Paternoster said.

But annual sales never exceeded $2 million, and they dropped to less than $1 million for the past three years, according to bankruptcy documents.

Fewer than a dozen employees were working at DriWater when it shut down.

The company had financial backing from a number of local investors, including the family of late “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz. The Schulz family owns the patent on DriWater's biodegradable gel formula, and Jean Schulz, the cartoonist's widow, holds a $1.5 million unsecured claim against the business, according to DriWater's court filing.

Unsecured creditors won't get any cash out of DriWater's liquidation, said Michael Fallon, the bankruptcy attorney representing the company.

“There's nothing left,” he said.

Secured creditors could be paid something after the company's equipment and inventory are sold.

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