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City program helps Amy’s Kitchen cut water use

  • Ronald Stith, front, and Cenovio Hurtado, back, load dishes into a washer at Amy's Kitchen in Santa Rosa, Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Amy’s Kitchen is scrupulous about cleanliness at its main processing plant in southwest Santa Rosa.

It takes millions of gallons of water a month to clean the equipment used to cook, assemble and freeze the company’s vegetarian food before it is shipped all over the country, making Amy’s Kitchen one of the largest water users in the city.

But in the face of one of the worst droughts in state history, Amy’s has taken a hard look at its water use and has been surprised by what it has found.

With the help of a city-funded water audit and ideas solicited from its 800-strong workforce, Amy’s has been able to reduce its water use by 30 percent with minimal investment. That’s 1 million gallons of water saved per month, or the equivalent of 154 households.

“It’s really a part of the culture of this company now to be more efficient with water,” said Kevin Haslebacher, vice president of manufacturing for the Petaluma-based company.

Amy’s accomplishment is being hailed by city officials as an important step toward meeting the city’s communitywide goal of a 20 percent reduction in water use. It also demonstrates how big water users can have a significant impact on water use with relatively small changes in operations.

“This is a big customer stepping up and doing the right thing,” said David Guhin, the city’s director of utilities.

Amy’s began talking with the city in earnest about its water use after the expansion plans it announced last spring came with a preliminary price tag of $34 million in city fees alone.

The largest of those was a $31 million hookup fee for new water and wastewater service, a cost company officials have said was a “showstopper.” But the hookup fee did not reflect significant reductions in water use the city felt Amy’s could achieve with a close look at its plant operations and practices.

So the city and Amy’s agreed on a two-pronged approach: The city would hire an engineering firm to help the company get a better handle on its water use, and the company would internally review its practices at the 120,000-square-foot Northpoint Parkway plant.

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