The King of Springs
article by VANELIS RIVERA
photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK
Before Jay Yates, COO of King Springs, toured me through his family’s one-year-old water bottling facility, he wanted me to see the land. “Alright, so this is one of our largest hay meadows.” As I rode shotgun in his pickup, he pointed to lush green fields spreading to a far-reaching horizon that met a bright blue sky peaking through layers of clouds. “There’s never been cattle on this side of the property.” That’s why we chose to use the springs over here,” he continued, only to get abruptly interrupted by his front wheel aggressively jolting into a deep rut. “Sorry about that. Grass gets so high you can’t see the ground.” He laughed, “Pray for my truck.” Most of the vegetation was overgrown, proof that not many tread through this remote location. He pointed to thick woods explaining that a system of creeks run between. “There’s waterfalls back there.” We passed two visible springs in that area, and though other springs remained unseen, they produce anywhere from fifteen to twenty gallons of natural spring water a minute from deep underground. It bubbles out from the ground and looks like “water from the Caribbean” because of a thick layer of sand at that depth that acts as a natural filter. Driving through the ranch-side of the land, Jay passed an incredible spring-fed pond. “That water has been there for 150 years. Back in those woods there’s a wagon trail,” he mentions, noting that the pond was a pit stop for weary travelers and their horses.
I didn’t expect the first 30 minutes of the interview to be in a truck passing through family homes and pastures replete with resting cattle and their playful calves. But then it dawned on me that King Springs isn’t merely about pure Louisiana water; it’s a story about the region, its history, and the rewards of turning 75 acres into 850 acres. Kingsland Ranch is owned by Nancy and Dr. Terry King, a pediatric heart specialist who purchased his first tract of land in 1979. The ranch has had a long history of producing high quality products starting with registered Red Brangus cattle, high protein hay, and even dirt. The vast number of natural springs is due to the ranch sitting on six aquifers. The Kingsland team spent a few years looking into how they could use that magnificent natural resource, then four years ago they partnered with the University of Louisiana at Monroe to move their water project forward by way of Dr. John Sutherlin, Chief Innovation and Research Officer. Due to his extensive background in groundwater he acted as consultant throughout the project, helping the team plan for the necessary equipment. They invested in top of the line, state-of-the-art equipment that was made-in-America.
The initial stages of the project were substantial and very involved. Though the water directly from the ground was clear and cold to the touch, it still needed to be tested. King Springs water has a naturally low level of total dissolved solids. TDS is a measure of the total amount of substances contained in the liquid, and King Springs is naturally filtered and very pure. They had a hydrogeologist complete a comprehensive study to prove sustainability in the water source. Wells were drilled at the appropriate depth and then scientifically matched to the spring water that flows at the surface. This proved that the spring water and well water were from the same source. The two permanent wells they used were stress tested and recharged almost immediately, ensuring that there will be plenty of King Springs Water for years to come.
The King Springs multi-step bottling process starts from the ground and makes its way into a 6000 square foot production plant (with room for expansion) that was converted from an old open air barn. The water gets pumped directly into the building to be stored in two 3000-gallon tanks and then runs through their three-step purification process. The bottling stage begins with, of course, the bottles, which start off as “pre-form” plastic (21.5 grams of PET Plastic). From there, the containers are blown into their shape via high pressure air compressors and a stainless steel mold which gives the bottles their signature diamond design at the top and bottom of the bottle. They get cleaned, filled with water in a separate process, then pass through the label application stage, which leads them down to the shrink wrapping machine, which uses heat to seal the packaging plastic. Ultimately, the operation can produce about 2,000 bottles an hour, while their five and three gallon machines can generate approximately 160 jugs an hour.
Jay’s market research showed that not only are people tired of tap water and the contaminants it contains, they also want to drink from bottles that don’t spill water every time they’re opened. King Springs bottles are not only sturdy, but sleek. Jay recruited the artistry of Jason Byron Nelson who helped him complete the final design on the logo and label. Currently, the facility runs 12-ounce and 16.9-ounce bottles packaged as 12 and 18 packs. They have found that the 12-ounce bottles are popular because they are easier to finish than larger bottles, and in that way are less wasteful.
Clearly, King Springs is more than just another bottled water, primarily because water is bottled at the source. The result of their process is a perfectly balanced, crisp-tasting water with a balanced pH between 7-7.4. King Springs production line also has the capability to do small batch bottling of juices and other sports waters, which they plan to distribute themselves and produce for other companies. Private label bottles are also available for your business or event so you can drink a great tasting water with your company’s logo on it.
King Springs bottles have been in retail circulation since the company’s launch in October of last year. The Northeast Louisiana community can now taste purified Louisiana spring water in the Now Save stores including Tiger Market and other convenience stations as well as Mac’s Fresh Market and Calhoun Grocery. They’ll also be available at Brookshire’s in the next few weeks. King Springs home and office delivery service is steadily growing with plenty of happy NELA customers. For an affordable price, interested parties can have their five or three gallon water jugs delivered to their home or office, as well as cases of 12oz and 16.9oz bottles. An added perk is that the large jugs get reused on average 150 times. “That’s why we have the whole system to rinse them out, so every time you put an empty bottle in there, it rinses it and sanitizes it,” says Jay pointing to yet another metallic monstrosity whose nozzles, valves and hoses work in unison for multi-faceted purposes.
“Even for me still, to this day, it blows my mind that water can come out of the ground in Louisiana,” exclaims Jay, who admitted that his association to water in the area was the brown, muddy water of the bayou. “I’ve never really seen much water that wasn’t muddy.” For many, it is astonishing to think that the region has such a pristine resource so readily available. King Springs recognizes its unique position in the area and for that reason is committed to conserving North Louisiana’s natural beauty. Their facility recycles every possible component of their production process and they encourage the public to always recycle their King Springs bottles. Additionally, any water waste produced in the production is used for irrigation of the meadows surrounding the facility.
In the beginning of the project Jay had fifty possible names for the bottled water before ending up with the “basic, easy answer.” The choice wasn’t merely practical, but one that holds to what Dr. Terry King began forty-two years ago when he looked out at the rolling hills and vast valleys situated in western Ouachita Parish and made a home that turned into a namesake. “The whole point is to do this for my stepfather,” says Jay, expanding with, “It’s a real legacy project for Kingsland Ranch, to keep it as an entity going forward for generations.”
Visit the King Springs website (https://www.kingspringsla.com) and follow them on social media for more information and call them at 318-396-1047 for details on their delivery options.