Water, Water Everywhere: A Visit to a Pennsylvania Water Facility

Everyone drinks water but most of us don't think much about our bottled water, where it comes from, how it’s filtered and cleaned, how it gets into a plastic or glass bottle and how it shows up on our local store shelves. Water may be simple, but bottling it is not a simple process. Bottled water plants are food manufacturing plants and therefore are rarely open to the public. So it falls to someone like me to make the trek to Allentown, Pennsylvania to visit the Nestle Waters plant. Since I write about water and water issues, this was my 3rd visit to a bottled water facility. My first visit was the Evian water plant in France. Then I had the extraordinary opportunity to visit the Kunlun Mountain water plant on the Tibetan Plateau in China at about 9,000 feet, and rarely visited by anyone, anywhere. So Allentown was a little easier to get to. Located in the Lehigh Valley in Eastern Pennsylvania the region is home to two other bottled water facilities, Ice River Springs and Niagara Bottling. Must be something good in the water around here.

Nestle produces two kinds of bottled water here, Deer Park, and Nestle Pure Life, as well as flavored waters, and teas. It’s important to remember that bottled water is a food product, therefore the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has set strict guidelines for how the plant operates and how everything is handled – which is why I had to wear a hair net, hard hat, and needed to remove any jewelry. But there is also the issue of proprietary information inside the plant therefore photos are limited. The plant is fairly unique in that it manufactures its own bottles on site, and the creation of bottle to filling it to packaging it and getting it on a truck takes less than an hour. Plastic bottles start as PET resin pellets, are made into pre-forms as the photo shows, then they are molded into bottles using 450 PSI to blow the pre-form into an actual bottle. They are then transported single file into the filling area, a sealed off space where water is filled so fast it is hard for the human eye to capture the fast moving bottles.
Resin pellets turn into a preform mold, which turns into a bottle

Nestle Pure Life is water sourced from the local municipality and the plant cleans the water, adds in minerals for a specific flavor profile then bottles it. On the other hand the Deer Park is natural spring water, pulled up from an underground spring, cleaned, filtered with micro-filtration and bottled. People rightfully wonder how the source water is protected and that is a fundamental question. After all, what good is it to have spring water if that water has been tainted by agricultural pesticides, animal feces, or industrial runoff? Nestle purchases large swaths of land around their water sources ensuring there is no interference with their pristine supply. Additionally they utilize a two-level protection system. First the borehole (where the spring actually is intercepted) is sealed off, and an alarm will sound if the door to the borehole is opened. Second, motion sensors alert the facility should people or animals get too close. But since these are remote areas that rarely occurs. As is typical of Nestle and most bottled water facilities, the physical springs are within 60 miles of the facility, designed to reduce tanker truck times on the road.

This massive plant is fundamentally built for speed as the loud hum of machinery attests. Bottled water plants are heavily automated and run with an impressive precision and intricate machinery few people know about. And this is what few people see, the incredible number of parts that go into getting a bottle of water on your store shelf, from both machines and man. And most consumers also don’t see that this plant alone employs about 460 people from Allentown and the surrounding communities, has a 100% recycling rate, and was the first food manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania to receive the US Building Council’s Gold LEED certification for being designed and run as efficiently as possible. And like most bottled water companies they have an active presence in the community including partnerships with Lehigh University allowing two students each semester to intern at the facility. Eastern Pennsylvania, and specifically the Lehigh Valley, is big on food-manufacturing and facilities like Nestlé provide the opportunities for a tremendous number of jobs and an economic boon to the area. With all that in mind the next time you reach for a bottle of water you might remember that water is simple, but getting water to consumers takes a lot of people, time and effort. But what you hold in your hand is the most critical resource we have on our planet; pure, clean, healthy water. Drink up!

For a more detailed, technical version of this article please visit BottledWaterWeb


  1. You give me a great blog about water. Thanks for sharing with us.
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  2. Thanks, Mark. A bottled water plant is always interesting to visit.

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