Rural Oregon Communities Are Fighting to Keep Out Big Water Bottling Companies

Water is critical to maintaining the balance of all life on Earth. As humans go, the United Nations estimates that each person needs about 50 to 100 liters a day for drinking and washing. It must be safe, accessible, and affordable. Some corporations claim ownership of fresh water sources to bottle and sell for profit. Others use water as a tool to extract oil and gas from the ground. In this episode of Making Contact, we’ll hear from communities fighting to keep big water bottling companies out of rural Oregon, and to protect water from oil and gas contamination in New Mexico.

Monica Lopez: This week on Making Contact: Water is critical to maintaining the balance of all life on Earth as humans go. The United Nations estimates that each person needs about 50 to 100 liters a day for drinking and washing. It must be safe, accessible and affordable. And then there are large corporations that claim ownership of fresh water sources to bottle and sell for profit.

Craig Jasmer: We were sitting on our property and heard well drilling operations and we wondered what was going on. Who was digging a well? Well, a neighbor informed us that the previous property owner had sold to Crystal Geyser. There was never any public notice published, which was really frustrating.

Monica Lopez: Other companies use water as a tool to extract oil and gas from the ground.

Rebecca Sobel: And until legislators can provide 100 percent assurance that there’s no risk to public health, there’s no risk to the environment, and there’s no risk to freshwater resources in the management of oil and gas waste, or produced water, regulators should move very cautiously, if at all.

Monica Lopez: This is “Wolves at the Well: The Corporate Grab of Public Water” on Making Contact. I’m Monica Lopez.

Monica Lopez: When you reach for that plastic bottle of water do you know where the water inside came from? Well, much of bottled water is sourced from municipal taps. Expensive premium bottled water actually does come from pristine springs located in remote rural areas. Oregon producer Barbara Bernstein explores the impacts that large water bottling facilities have on these rural areas and why residents in targeted communities are fighting back against water bottlers like Nestle and Crystal Geyser.

Barbara Bernstein: For the vast majority of human existence and civilization, water has been perceived as a common resource not to be owned and bought and sold. As we head into a climate crisis, we’ve really got to make sure a water gets defined as a public resource.

Barbara Bernstein: The Pacific Northwest is a water abundant region, with many small towns reeling from the loss of their primary industry: logging. The commercial water bottling industry has been eyeing many of these communities as prime locations to site large water bottling plants. Cascade Locks is a small logging town in the Columbia River Gorge, about 40 miles east of Portland, Oregon, whose lumber mills shut down in 1988.

Aurora Del Val It was pretty devastating to the local economy and I think to the social fabric of the community when the mill closed down.

Barbara Bernstein: Aurora del Val lives in Cascade Locks and was the campaign director for the local water alliance.

Aurora Del Val People here were understandably desperate because this is an economically depressed area and a prime candidate for corporations like Nestlé to come in and say, Hey, we can save your town.

Barbara Bernstein: In 2008, Nestle approached city leaders with an offer to build a water bottling facility that would draw water from a pristine spring just outside town. They were warmly received by the Cascade Locks mayor and city manager and most of the city council. Julia DeGraw was a Northwest organizer for Food and Water Watch, one of several environmental organizations that led the fight to stop Nestle from building their water bottling plant.

Julia DeGraw: Anybody in Cascade Locks who didn’t want to see a multinational corporation with Nestle’s track record of damaging local water resources coming into their town were very scared, frankly, to speak out against their elected leadership and to disagree with their neighbors.

Aurora Del Val The mayor and the city council and the city manager, they were trying to silence us. We’d have members keep going to the city council meetings and also the Port of Cascade Locks meetings and say this is not a done deal.

Barbara Bernstein: As the opponents of Nestle’s water bottling plant became more frustrated and angry, they also began to get more organized.

Aurora Del Val: We ended up demanding that we wanted a true Town Hall meeting, not a Nestle sponsored town hall meeting.

Julia DeGraw: Every other public meeting had been hosted by Nestle and the moderator they hired. So all of a sudden, there is this just boiling point where people showed up and could actually ask their elected officials direct questions about why are we doing this and how is this in our best interests.

Aurora Del Val: One thing that came up in the town hall meeting was why not put it to a vote to the city? But we were advised that doing a countywide measure would spread the news about the danger of having these water extractors come in.

Barbara Bernstein: As word of Nestle’s plans got out to the rest of Hood River County, where Cascade Locks is situated, opposition swelled even though the plant was still favored by many Cascade Locks residents and nearly all its elected officials.

Julia DeGraw: Most of the time, when Nestle wants to open up a water bottling facility the fight never goes beyond the city or county level. The water that Nestlé wanted to bottle was spring water that was used by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, a state agency, for a fish hatchery. What they did not anticipate was that a state agency had to go through a process to make this public water available to a multinational corporation for water bottling purposes. And it gave all the organizations that eventually formed out of the Gorge Coalition an opportunity to make this a state wide issue.

Julia DeGraw: We’re talking about water, which is a common public resource owned by every Oregonian and Nestlé, which trucks water up to five hundred miles away from their water bottling sites. So the impact wasn’t going to stick just in Cascade Locks.

Barbara Bernstein: In 2015, local activists formed the local water alliance to launch a ballot measure to make commercial water bottling plants and shipping water out of the county for commercial uses illegal in Hood River County. While the measure did not have majority support in the city of Cascade Locks, it found broad support across the rest of the county.

Aurora Del Val: Because Hood River County produces a lot of food for the region, for the nation, We really did a lot of outreach with farmers on both sides of the river. We got over a 100 local businesses and over 60 farms and orchards to sign on and support us.

Barbara Bernstein: In May 2016, the ballot initiative passed with 69 percent of the vote. However, in the city of Cascade Locks, the initiative was defeated by a narrow margin. Ballot initiative proponents steeled themselves for the city to appeal the measure, while hoping that Oregon governor, Kate Brown, would step in and stop the water rights exchange that would allow Nestle to use the spring water.

Julia DeGraw: It was such a high to pass it, and then it was so disappointing to have just a complete lack of action on the governor’s part. It’s just frustrating to know that we had to keep the fight going where we generated a bunch of phone calls and emails to the governor. So she got a lot of contacts from citizens saying like, please don’t do this, right smack dab in the middle of Governor Brown’s reelection campaign. I think she recognized that in a contentious election cycle, she does not want to be the governor who is standing by while Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is making water available to Nestle for water bottling. So Governor Brown publicly came out and said it is not in the best interest of our state to allow ODFW to do a water rights exchange and to please withdraw their application.

Aurora Del Val: Finding that out, I felt like I had five hundred pounds lift from my shoulders, because the city was getting geared up for a battle to appeal.

Barbara Bernstein: About a year after Cascade Locks drove Nestle out of the gorge, a similar water battle erupted 100 miles north in the tiny community of Randle, Washington.

Craig Jasmer: We were sitting on our property and heard, well, drilling operations and we wondered what was going on. Who was digging a well?

Barbara Bernstein: Craig Jasmer is a Randle resident and a founding member of the Lewis County Water Alliance.

Craig Jasmer: A neighbor informed us that the previous property owner had sold to Crystal Geyser. There was never any public notice published, which was really frustrating.

Alex Brown: They paid close to seven hundred thousand for the property when it was valued at something in the two hundred thousands.

Barbara Bernstein: Alex Brown was a local reporter with the Chronicle covering Lewis county during the Crystal Geyser Incident.

Alex Brown: That certainly raised a few eyebrows given the opposition that these proposals have faced in so many small communities. It really did seem like they were trying to fly under the radar as much as they possibly could.

Craig Jasmer: Initially, we were shocked as to why Crystal Geyser would have purchased the property out here, because we knew that the county zoning wouldn’t allow such an industry out there. And then as we started our investigation, what we found was that the zoning had recently been changed to allow for food and beverage manufacturing of this size in our zone

Alex Brown: They were interested in allowing craft breweries and wineries who wanted to have some sort of onsite tasting. But ultimately, that change in the zoning ended up opening up a loophole for Crystal. Geyser to come in. Randle’s a quiet rural area, folks, when they started hearing about this proposal, were going “OK. I retired out here in the countryside and now we’re going to have a plant the size of a Wal-Mart. We’re gonna have semi truck traffic going up and down the road where my grandkids ride their bikes”. People started to raise concerns about well water and the aquifer being depleted/ Very quickly it became a fairly organized movement.

Craig Jasmer: Initially, we gathered a small group of our neighbors and decided that we needed to stop it, but we wouldn’t be able to stop it just ourselves. So we’ve organized a town hall meeting in Randle and invited the county commissioner, the county manager who both showed up.

Alex Brown: By my count, there are at least 300 people there, including many who couldn’t even get into the building, who were just listening on speakers outside.

Craig Jasmer: We had some spokespersons from the Cowlitz Indian tribe. We got the facts that we had discovered from public records requests when the community heard these facts. They were outraged. They all came together and knew that it was going to take all of them to stop it.

Alex Brown: Part of the reason the response in Randle was so organized and effective was that they did communicate with people from Cascade Locks and some of these other communities who have gone to war with some of these bottling companies and fought successfully or not against a lot of these proposals.

Craig Jasmer: We started communicating with our local government, with the state government, making waves wherever we could.

Alex Brown: People were showing up in force to county commission meetings for months where you’d have people driving two hours across the county to show up and speak.

Craig Jasmer: We’d have 30 people who gave a three minute talk on Crystal Geyser and basically took over every meeting. They knew that we were a force to be reckoned with and that they had to do something, otherwise they were going to continue to have a lot of interruptions in their meetings and not get anything done.

Alex Brown: Pretty much at all levels of county government people were telling me they had never seen this level of engagement on an issue, let alone from a small rural community an hour away from the county seat.

Craig Jasmer: Basically, what we were talking about doing was just putting a halt on any permit applications for food and beverage manufacturing until they studied that zoning criteria and decided whether or not they wanted to keep it the way it was, if Crystal Geyser had gone ahead and submitted an application with the county prior to that moratorium being in effect, they would have been grandfathered in and they would have a bottling plant there today.

Barbara Bernstein: The people in Randle decided that they needed to act not only on a county level, but also on the state level.

Craig Jasmer: This wasn’t the first time that these bottling companies have tried to come into Washington or into Oregon. And it’s always these small towns in the rural areas that are targeted. They’re the ones who have the least amount of defense against these big corporations. We felt like it was the neighborly thing to do to try to educate the state on what we had learned at the county level and try to protect all of our neighbors throughout the state.

Barbara Bernstein: In the middle of this contentious battle Crystal Geyser’s COO sent an email to Chronicle reporter Alex Brown requesting that he write an article about how other communities have benefited from having a Crystal Geyser bottling facility sited in their community. Brown responded that since they refused to go on the record with him, he would not print their PR. To his surprise he received back a revealing email from the CEO.

Alex Brown: My impression is that he intended to forward that e-mail to the company president, but accidentally replied to me, essentially saying The Chronicle’s not gonna play ball and reprint our PR. Everyone’s against us. This project is probably dead. But here’s a last ditch plan we can try to use. To sue the local subdivision preemptively and just use very strong arm tactics to try to get the project through when they clearly lost in the court of public opinion at that point. They were somewhat flabbergasted that we intended to print that information. So very quickly had a multi-billion dollar law firm threaten to sue us and put a restraining order on us if we attempted to publish it. We knew that that was all a bluff and so we ran it in the next day’s newspaper. The opposition, got even louder and more unified, and it pretty much directly led to county commissioners revising and clarifying the code to disallow large scale water bottling for commercial purposes, which in effect killed the project and marked a successful end to this local movement.

Barbara Bernstein: The Chronicle story inspired a bill introduced in the Washington State Senate that would ban groundwater extraction for commercial bottling. Craig Jasmer with the Lewis County Water Alliance.

Craig Jasmer: The idea of the bill was that you’re not able to apply for a permit for a water right in the state of Washington if the purpose is to take the water out of the ground and bottle it and ship it out of the state.

Barbara Bernstein: The bill did pass the state Senate, but in the House, it did not make it out of committee and so was killed, at least for now.

Craig Jasmer: It was disheartening to see the corporate lobbyists come in and explain why they should vote against it. Really no reason other than for corporate profits.

Aurora Del Val: We need to have a much more widespread policy to protect public water because it’s battle fatigue for small town people to have to do this over and over again.

Barbara Bernstein: Aurora del Val Cascade Locks Local Water Alliance.

Aurora Del Val: And I hope that Washington will be the first state in the nation to make commercial water bottling illegal for making contact.

Barbara Bernstein: For Making Contact, This is Barbara Bernstein.

Soure: https://truthout.org/audio/rural-oregon-communities-are-fighting-to-keep-out-big-water-bottling-companies/

Nestle could sell most of its North American water business, which includes 2 Lehigh Valley plants

Swiss food and beverage giant Nestle S.A. is changing course in its waters business, a shift that could lead to the company unloading a part of the business that includes two Lehigh Valley bottling plants and about 500 local employees.

Nestle announced the “new strategic direction” Thursday, after its board of directors approved a sharpened focus on the company’s international brands such as Perrier, S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna.

The board decided that its regional spring water brands, including Deer Park, purified water business and beverage-delivery service within its Nestle Waters North America unit don’t align with the new focus.

So Nestle is exploring strategic options, including a potential sale, for the majority of its Nestle Waters business in North America.

The review, which is expected to be completed by early 2021, includes the company’s two Breinigsville bottling facilities, which employ about 500 workers, confirmed Nestle Waters spokesperson Alix Dunn. The facilities produce Deer Park spring water and Nestle Pure Life bottled water, which is then distributed to major retail and grocery customers throughout Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic.

Just three years ago, Nestle completed a $79 million expansion that added three high-speed bottling lines to the local Nestle Pure Life bottling facility as the company worked to keep up with demand for healthier beverage options. The year before, in 2016, bottled water outsold carbonated soft drinks in the United States for the first time.

But times change, with consumers now opting for sparkling or flavored waters and with heightened criticism surrounding plastic waste.

Nestle Waters only logged 0.2% organic growth in North America last year, slightly positive because of price increases, according to Nestle’s 2019 annual review. To try to fix what was dubbed an underperforming business in the review, Nestle announced in October it was integrating its waters business into the group’s three geographical zones to boost local expertise, quicken its response to changing consumer preferences and create synergies.

As part of its announcement Thursday, Nestle also pledged to make its global water portfolio carbon-neutral and replenish watersheds by 2025.

“The creation of a more focused business enables us to more aggressively pursue emerging consumer trends, such as functional water, while doubling down on our sustainability agenda,” Nestle CEO Mark Schneider said. “This strategy offers the best opportunity for long-term profitable growth in the category, while appealing to environmentally and health-conscious consumers.”

Excluding the international brands Nestle will focus on, the Nestle Waters business in North America had sales of 3.4 billion Swiss francs, or about $3.6 billion in U.S. dollars. Aside from Deer Park and Nestle Pure Life, it includes brands such as Poland Spring, Ozarka, Ice Mountain, Zephyrhills and Arrowhead.

Nestle Waters has a 25-year history in the Lehigh Valley, a period during which its employment here has increased by more than 500%.

In 1995, the company opened its first Lehigh Valley bottling plant with about 75 local employees. About a decade later, Nestle Waters spent $116 million to expand and build its second local facility: a 580,000-square-foot bottling plant. The two plants’ combined payroll represents more than $36 million.

Protesters ‘SLAPPback’ as water fight boils over

Four years ago, nine activists in the small town of Weed, Calif., were railing against an Oregon timber company threatening the city’s water supply.

Then the “Weed 9” met an unexpected outcome: They got sued.

“It was devastating,” said Bob Hall, one of the nine and the former mayor of the timber town at the base of Mount Shasta, about 50 miles south of the Oregon border.

With the help of First Amendment experts, the group got the lawsuit tossed by filing a motion under California’s anti-strategic litigation against public participation, or anti-SLAPP, law.

The law is designed to shield defendants from abuses of the legal system, said Evan Mascagni, the policy director of the Public Participation Project.

“That’s the whole point of SLAPPs,” he said. “You want to drain your target financially and also psychologically. They drag you through the court system for years.”

Now, the Weed 9 are going one step further. Two weeks ago, they filed a “SLAPPback” lawsuitagainst the attorneys who represented the timber company. They are seeking damages.

Weed’s water war has raged for years.

The small — population 2,700 — timber town sits at the edge of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. It was established by International Paper Co. for its employees decades ago.

For more than 110 years, Weed has drawn its water from Beaughan Springs, a gravity-fed spring at the base of the dormant Shasta volcano.

The paper company owned the land where the spring sits, and it leased the water for years to the town for $1 per year.

International Paper sold the property to Roseburg Forest Products Co. in 1982.

When the city’s water lease ended in 2016, it didn’t have an alternative water source and was forced to negotiate a new lease with Springfield, Ore.-based Roseburg. The city declared a state of emergency. It ultimate reached a new deal with Roseburg. The cost: nearly $100,000 per year.

At the same time, Roseburg was selling water from the spring to Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water, which markets its bottled water around the world.

Weed’s leaders spoke out. Hall — the 2014 Weed “Citizen of the Year” and a City Council member — worked with a group and formed Water for Citizens of Weed California (WCWC) to protest.

They claimed the new lease violated California’s water rights system; the city, not the timber company, had a historic right to that water. The City Council passed a resolution asking the state to declare that to be the case.

Roseburg struck back with a lawsuit that asked a state court to adjudicate the water rights issue.

But in an unusual twist, the lawsuit didn’t just challenge the city. It also named WCWC and nine individual citizens who had campaigned against Roseburg — even though they didn’t claim any right to the water themselves.

Hall said the lawsuit was designed to shut them up. And it was scary.

“It was, ‘Oh, shit,'” he said. “It was really just intimidating. I had never felt that before.”

Hall and WCWC were immediately put under financial strain. After getting help from the First Amendment Project and others, they filed a motion to get out of the case under the anti-SLAPP law.

At a hearing on the motion in December 2017, Roseburg’s lawyers argued that the case was about cleaning up any “cloud” surrounding who owned the right to the water. And they said Hall and the Weed 9 had threatened their own lawsuit.

California Superior Court Judge Karen Dixon wasn’t convinced. She ruled that the Weed 9 weren’t making a specific claim to the water rights.

“I couldn’t help but notice,” she said, according to a transcript, “that the only reason that these names came specifically to the attention of” Roseburg “is because these were the private citizens who were exercising their privilege and their rights under the Constitution.”

Multiple requests to the law firm, Sacramento-based Churchwell White LLP and the lawyers named in the new case, Barbara Brenner and Robin Baral, who now works for another firm, were not returned. Roseburg similarly did not respond to emails and phone messages.

The prospects of the Weed 9’s new lawsuit are unclear.

That’s mainly because there haven’t been many SLAPPback suits filed, something the Weed 9’s new attorney is well aware of.

“In my 23 years of experience,” said Lauren Regan of the Eugene, Ore.-based Civil Liberties Defense Center, “this is the first SLAPPback that we have filed.”

SLAPPback lawsuits are “rare, rare, rare,” said James Wheaton of the First Amendment Project, who helped draft California’s anti-SLAPP laws.

Typically, once the target of the lawsuit gets the first case thrown out, they don’t want to deal with the costs and stress of more litigation. California’s SLAPPback law is also relatively new; it was enacted in 2005.

Wheaton worked on the first phase of the Weed 9 case and helped get it tossed. He said it is an exception.

“The Weed 9 is so frivolous and so obviously not directed at the people they sued,” he said. “They never should have been sued.”

Often in SLAPPback cases, the company can defend itself by saying it was following the advice of its lawyers by bringing the first suit, Wheaton said.

That doesn’t fit here, however, because the Weed 9’s lawsuit targets the attorneys themselves.

Regan said her clients, several of whom are in their 80s and are former public servants in Weed, are especially motivated.

“They really felt like they wanted to send a message that these type of cases have really undemocratic consequences,” she said.

Mascagni, of the Public Participation Project, said the key criteria in a SLAPPback suit is whether the Weed 9 can show they were the target of a “malicious” prosecution.

And while SLAPPback cases have been uncommon in California, in theory, anyone who prevails in getting the initial case dismissed under California’s anti-SLAPP lawsuit is on solid ground for the SLAPPback suit.

“I’m interested to see how it plays out in this case,” Mascagni said.

The lawsuit between Roseburg and the city eventually was settled for undisclosed terms.

For Hall, the former mayor, major principles are at stake.

“My main motivation now is to bring light to this,” he said. “Freedom of speech is really something you got to defend.”

Source: https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063082309

Bottled water war: Washington, other states seek to curtail firms in tapping local groundwater

OLYMPIA — Washington state, land of sprawling rainforests and glacier-fed rivers, might soon become the first in the nation to ban water bottling companies from tapping spring-fed sources.

The proposal is one of several efforts at the state and local level to fend off the fast-growing bottled water industry and protect local groundwater. Local activists throughout the country say bottling companies are taking their water virtually for free, depleting springs and aquifers, then packaging it in plastic bottles and shipping it elsewhere for sale.

“I was literally beyond shocked,” said Washington state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who sponsored the bill to ban bottling companies from extracting groundwater.

“I was jolted to the core to realize the depth and breadth and magnitude of how they have lawyered up in these small towns to take advantage of water rights,” the Democrat said. “The fact that we have incredibly loose, if virtually nonexistent, policy guidelines around this is shocking and a categorical failure.”

Elsewhere, lawmakers in Michigan and Maine also have filed bills to restrict the bottling of groundwater or tax the industry. Local ballot measures have passed in Oregon and Montana to restrict the industry, although the zoning change in Montana’s Flathead County remains tied up in court.

“The Washington state bill is groundbreaking,” said Mary Grant, a water policy specialist with the environmental group Food & Water Watch. “As water scarcity is becoming a deeper crisis, you want to protect your local water supply so it goes for local purposes. (Bottled water) is not an industry that needs to exist.”

Although much of the controversy around the bottled water industry has concerned “bottled at the source” spring water sites, nearly two-thirds of the bottled water sold in the United States comes from municipal tap water, according to Food & Water Watch. The Washington state legislation would not keep companies from buying and reselling tap water.

Americans consumed nearly 14 billion gallons of bottled water in 2018, while sales reached $19 billion — more than doubling the industry’s size in 2004. The bottled water industry is expected to grow to more than $24 billion in the next three years, according to Beverage Industry magazine.

Industry leaders have opposed sweeping legislation that would cut off resources, pointing out the potential hit to local employment and the importance of bottled water in disaster relief.

“This legislation would prevent any community from having these jobs or having a project in their area,” said Brad Boswell, executive director of the Washington Beverage Association, who testified against the bill. “We think these issues are best dealt with on a project-by-project basis.”

The International Bottled Water Association defended the track record of its members in an emailed statement. The bill in Washington and other legislation to limit the industry “are based on the false premise that the bottled water industry is harming the environment,” wrote Jill Culora, the group’s vice president of communications.

“All IBWA members,” she wrote, “are good stewards of the environment. When a bottled water company decides to build a plant, it looks for a long-term, sustainable source of water and the ability to protect the land and environment around the source and bottling facility.”

Culora did not address specific examples of community claims that bottling companies have damaged their watersheds and aquifers.

When residents in Randle, Washington, learned of a proposed Crystal Geyser operation last year, some worried about a large industrial plant in their quiet, rural valley near Mount Rainier.

Many feared that the company’s plan to pump 400 gallons a minute from springs on the site would deplete the local aquifer and dry up their wells.

The worry turned to furor when a leaked email exposed the company’s plan to sue the nearby subdivision in response to neighbor opposition, then conduct an underground public relations campaign to gain support for the project.

“Pumping water out of the ground, putting it in plastic bottles and exporting it out of the state of Washington is not in the public interest,” said Craig Jasmer, a leader of the Lewis County Water Alliance, which organized to oppose the Randle plant and has pushed for the statewide ban.

Recent news increased the concerns: Last month, Crystal Geyser pleaded guilty to storing arsenic-contaminated wastewater at a California facility, and then illegally dumping the water into a sewer after being confronted by authorities. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2016, Crystal Geyser paid a timber company for access to a spring that had historically provided the water for the city of Weed, California, forcing the town to find a new water supply.

Local activists in California, Oregon, Michigan and Florida say they have been targeted by big bottlers that damage the environment and provide scant economic benefit.

Nestlé has drawn criticism for its bottling operation in California’s San Bernardino National Forest, which federal officials have concluded is “drying up” creeks.

″(The creeks) are visibly different where the water is extracted and where it’s not,” said Michael O’Heaney, executive director of the Story of Stuff Project, a California-based group that makes films about environmental issues.

During California’s drought, he said, “Nestlé wasn’t being asked to curtail its water (in)take at the same time as Californians were being asked to significantly reduce the amount of water they were using.”

Just across the Columbia River from Washington, the residents of Hood River County passed a ballot measure in 2016 to ban commercial water bottling after Nestlé announced plans to build a plant that would extract more than 100 million gallons a year.

Aurora del Val, who helped lead the campaign for the ballot measure, said Nestlé first made inroads with local officials, promising jobs for an area that had seen its economy suffer with the decline of the timber industry.

“This seemed like the golden ticket to having a boomtown again,” she said. “But the more educated people became, the more opposition there was in the town.”

In an emailed statement, Nestlé noted its contributions to state economies — one study showed it provided 900 jobs and had an economic impact of $250 million in Florida in 2018. The company also defended its environmental record, without addressing specific claims that its operations are damaging watersheds.

“We have a proven track record of successful long-term management of water resources in states where we operate,” Nestlé Waters North America spokesman Adam Gaber wrote. “It would make absolutely NO sense for Nestle Waters to invest millions of dollars into local operations just to deplete the natural resources on which our business relies.”

One of Nestlé’s projects is in Osceola Township, Michigan, where local officials are fighting the company’s plan to nearly double the groundwater it extracts from the area.

Locals say that nearby trout streams have turned into mud flats since Nestlé’s arrival, and jobs did not materialize when it chose to build its bottling plant miles away.

“Streams are flooding all over Michigan, except for Twin and Chippewa creeks, which are not,” said Peggy Case, president of the group Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. “The city aquifer is down 14 feet now, and it’s not recharging. There are people with wells in the area that are starting to run dry. They no longer are as happy with Nestlé as they used to be.”

Even if the company’s operations had no environmental effect, Case said her group would still object.

“They are privatizing water,” she said, “and we are opposed to that.”

In a state where the Flint water crisis is still fresh in people’s minds, water resources are a charged issue, said state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, a Democrat. Rabhi is part of a group of lawmakers pushing a package of bills that would limit the bottled water industry.

Rabhi has filed a bill that would define water as a public trust, instead of a privately owned commodity. Another measure would prohibit shipping bottled water out of the Great Lakes watershed. A third bill would bolster the regulatory authority of the state Department of Natural Resources.

A representative for Absopure, a Michigan-based company that bottles spring water, did not respond to a request for comment. The Michigan Retailers Association said it was not taking a position on the bill, while the Michigan Soft Drink Association and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment.

In an emailed response, Nestlé said the Michigan bills unfairly “single out one industry, one type of water user, for such restrictions.” The company noted that water bottling accounts for less than 0.01 percent of water use in the state and said its Michigan operations employ 280 workers.

Opponents counter that the industry’s water use is wholly extractive, while other heavy users, such as agriculture, return much of the water they use to the watershed.

Carlyle’s bill in Washington has eight co-sponsors, all Democrats except for state Sen. John Braun, the Republican who represents the Randle community that battled Crystal Geyser. The bill moved through the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee. Backers are waiting to see whether it will be added to the Senate voting calendar.

Some lawmakers, however, have expressed misgivings about taking statewide action against a specific business.

This report is a product of Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Source: https://www.registerguard.com/news/20200218/bottled-water-war-washington-other-states-seek-to-curtail-firms-in-tapping-local-groundwater

Nestlé cannot claim bottled water is ‘essential public service’, court rules

The Guardian  December 5, 2019

by Tom Perkins

Michigan’s second-highest court has dealt a legal blow to Nestlé’s Ice Mountain water brand, ruling that the company’s commercial water-bottling operation is “not an essential public service” or a public water supply.

The court of appeals ruling is a victory for Osceola township, a small mid-Michigan town that blocked Nestlé from building a pumping station that doesn’t comply with its zoning laws. But the case could also throw a wrench in Nestlé’s attempts to privatize water around the country.

If it is to carry out such plans, then it will need to be legally recognized as a public water source that provides an essential public service. The Michiganenvironmental attorney Jim Olson, who did not represent Osceola township but has previously battled Nestlé in court, said any claim that the Swiss multinational is a public water utility “is ludicrous”.

“What this lays bare is the extent to which private water marketers like Nestlé, and others like them, go [in] their attempts to privatize sovereign public water, public water services, and the land and communities they impact,” Olson said.

The ruling, made on Tuesday, could also lead state environmental regulators to reconsider permits that allow Nestlé to pump water in Michigan.

The fight to stop Nestlé from taking America’s water to sell in plastic bottles

The Guardian

by

The network of clear streams comprising California’s Strawberry Creek run down the side of a steep, rocky mountain in a national forest two hours east of Los Angeles. Last year Nestlé siphoned 45m gallons of pristine spring water from the creek and bottled it under the Arrowhead Water label.

Though it’s on federal land, the Swiss bottled water giant paid the US Forest Service and state practically nothing, and it profited handsomely: Nestlé Waters’ 2018 worldwide sales exceeded $7.8bn.

Conservationists say some creek beds in the area are now bone dry and once-gushing springs are reduced to mere trickles. The Forest Service recently determined Nestlé’s activities left Strawberry Creek “impaired” while “the current water extraction is drying up surface water resources”.

Meanwhile, the state is investigating whether Nestlé is illegally drawing from Strawberry Creek and in 2017 advised it to “immediately cease any unauthorized diversions”. Still, a year later, the Forest Service approved a new five-year permit that allows Nestlé to continue using federal land to extract water, a decision critics say defies common sense.

Strawberry Creek is emblematic of the intense, complex water fights playing out around the nation between Nestlé, grassroots opposition, and government officials. At stake is control of the nation’s freshwater supply and billions in profits as Nestlé bottles America’s water then sells it back in plastic bottles. Those in opposition, like author and nutritionist Amanda Frye, increasingly view Nestlé as a corporate villain motivated by “greed”.

“These are people who just want to make money, but they’ve already dried up the upper Strawberry Creek and they’ve done a lot of damage,” she said. “They’re a foreign corporation taking our natural resources, which makes it even worse.”

Critics characterize Nestlé as a “predatory” water company that targets struggling communities with sometimes exaggerated job promises while employing a variety of cheap strategies, like donating to local boy scouts, to win over small town officials who hold the keys to valuable springs.

Its spending on lobbying and campaign contributions at the federal and statelevels totals in the millions annually, the revolving door between the company and government perpetually turns, and it maintains cozy relationships with federal officials from the Forest Service to Trump administration.

Such tactics are partly what’s behind the Forest Service’s Strawberry Creek decision to allow Nestlé to pull water from federal land, said Michael O’Heaney, director of the Los Angeles-based environmental group Story of Stuff, which has sued to stop Nestlé.

Randle Town Hall Draws Strong Turnout to Oppose Water Bottling Plant

Scores of cars lined either side of U.S. Highway 12 Wednesday evening, spilling over from the full parking lot at the Randle Fire Hall. Inside the building, close to 250 people packed into the meeting room, with dozens more listening to an audio speaker stationed outside.

The attendees came from all over the Pacific Northwest, but most were local to Randle or East Lewis County. Nearly all were there to register their opposition to the proposed water bottling facility that Crystal Geyser hopes to build on its newly purchased property along the Cowlitz River

“This could turn out to be a very, very long dilemma,” said Wes Randle McMahan. “We have to stay involved, and we can’t just rely on a few people to do it. It’s got to be all of us.”

McMahan is the great-great grandson of James Randle, the town’s founder. He recently moved back to the area and lives about a mile from the proposed plant on 807 Peters Road. Like many nearby residents, he’s concerned about noise, pollution, truck traffic — and the disturbance of the way of life in the quiet, rural valley.

The hall was filled with local residents, members of the Cowlitz Tribe, fishermen, elected officials and environmental activists from throughout the region. Many held signs that said “Water is Life” and registered boisterous opposition at any mention of Crystal Geyser’s plans.

Craig Jasmer, who led the town hall, said he purchased a property nearby just days before he learned Crystal Geyser was planning to build a plant. He first got wind of the proposal when he heard the noise from the company’s exploratory drilling.

“Crystal Geyser has not published any public notice on this,” he said. “This corporation, if any of you have Googled Crystal Geyser, I think you’ve found they’re not very reputable.”

Crystal Geyser — the better-known moniker for the company CG Roxane, an affiliate of Japanese-based Otsuka Pharmaceutical — is proposing to build a 100,000 square foot plant on the 80-acre lot it purchased last month. That building, about the size of a Walmart, is one many feel would be out of place in the largely undeveloped valley, surrounded by forested mountainsides.

County commissioner Gary Stamper said he met with Crystal Geyser representatives in April, asking them why they had chosen the Randle site rather than an industrial park.

“I am not a person who takes this stuff lightly. All of your concerns are my concerns,” he said. “This is an anomaly, because we’ve never had anything like this. (Industrial operations) always come to the ports. … This site is a bad site.”

The crowd thanked Stamper for listening and sharing his perspective, though the county has not yet received an official permit application on which it could take a stand.

County manager Erik Martin also shared with the crowd, outlining what the permitting process might look like if Crystal Geyser applies to build the facility with the county. Though the bureaucratic procedures are largely very technical, Martin said the input of locals — especially as it relates to the project’s fit in the community — is still of great importance.

“I have to say wow, because projects just don’t get this type of support and involvement from the community,” he said. “It matters, it really does. Thank you all for coming.”

According to Martin, the county’s only contact from Crystal Geyser has been a letter sent from chief operations officer Page Beykpour on June 17. Beykpour said the company is continuing to “explore options,” and if the Randle property is not the “chosen site,” it plans to sell it or convert it to another use.

The company has obtained a preliminary permit from the state for exploratory drilling and a test well. The results of that testing will help determine whether it can procure a withdrawal permit, with which it hopes to extract 400 gallons per minute from springs on the property.

Some at the meeting said their concern is the facility’s effect on the aquifer and the watershed. Many worried that wells would go dry, river flows would diminish and water temperatures would increase.

“These salmon and steelhead that are in this upper Cowlitz are (Endangered Species Act) listed,” said Greg King, vice president of the Friends of the Cowlitz nonprofit fishing advocacy group. “If they don’t have any water, they’re not going to make it. … This aquifer is huge, but those fish need every drop.”

Greg LaDue-Grove, a member of the Cowlitz Tribe, said the waters of the Cowlitz River watershed have sustained life in this region for thousands of years.

“Now it’s your responsibility too,” he said. “I see people here like me that have grandkids. What will you leave them? … I’m so happy to see so many of you standing up, and I hope you’ll continue past this.”

Many of the speakers thanked the tribal members for attending, noting that their presence adds strength to the alliance opposing the plant. Teri Graves, another Cowlitz member who spoke, said she had seen the Cowlitz Glacier recede while working as a ranger at Mount Rainier National Park. The community support, she said, was a welcome show that the tribe is not alone in this fight.

“I look at this room and I see allies, and I’m so grateful for you guys,” she said. “We are so honored that you are allies with us.”

Others joined the event with their own stories of opposition to other proposed bottling operations in the Northwest. Advocate Julia DeGraw was among the leaders who fought Nestle’s efforts to build a plant in the Columbia River Gorge. The key, she said, is joining the battle early, because it’s difficult to stop an operation once it’s underway. The turnout for the town hall was cause for optimism, she added.

“You are so poised right now in this moment to win this fight,” she said. “I’m really excited to see this level of organization and momentum. … This is a political decision. Your political leaders can say no, and that’s what we’re here to ask.”

Deanna Busdieker, a former city councilor in Cascade Locks, Oregon, shared her story of working to block a proposed bottling operation in her town. Her message was simple.

“Give them as much hell as you can,” she said.

Fred Suter, vice chair of the Loo Wit group of the Washington chapter of the Sierra Club, said the organization has taken notice of the fight in Randle — which has drawn similar concerns to a proposed mine nearby along the Green River.

“I’m amazed that everyone is coming together here,” he said. “This is an amazing group.”

Many at the meeting discussed the most productive ways of opposing the plant. The Lewis County Water Alliance, a group leading efforts to block the development, collected fundraising dollars and asked people to join its Facebook page. Jasmer handed out a fact sheet on the process, and opponents were urged to contact the Washington State Department of Ecology to weigh in on the withdrawal permit. To obtain the permit, Crystal Geyser must show that the development is in the “public interest.”

Meanwhile, Martin said any county permitting would go through a hearings examiner — who would also take into consideration the concerns of the community.

“Under that process, you can write letters, you can send emails, you can appeal,” he said. “You can also come to the hearing and talk to the hearings examiner himself about what you thought about it.”

Some noted that concerns about the aquifer — while legitimate — might not be able to demonstrate enough scientific certainty to sink the project. What’s more obvious is how fundamentally the plant would change the nature of the rural area, where residents value the views and the quiet, and kids ride their bikes along the little-trafficked road. Keeping pressure on those concerns, they noted, might be the most viable legal path to blocking development.

Regardless of strategy, the sentiment of opposition was nearly unanimous Wednesday evening, as was the united community spirit demonstrated by the turnout — an impressive crowd for any town hall, let alone one in a tiny, rural area. The sentiment was one of optimism, as speaker after speaker expressed surprise at the number and breadth of supporters who had showed up. King, the fishing advocate, spoke for everyone, drawing loud applause.

“Let’s not lose this,” he said. “Let’s keep our foot on their necks and not let it up.”

The Daily Chronicle Great Lewis County

Source: http://www.chronline.com/news/randle-town-hall-draws-strong-turnout-to-oppose-water-bottling/article_8735810a-99d3-11e9-9ce9-27a05bf6655d.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=user-share&fbclid=IwAR1vNwtQbivwTo_wUrDYgfn1fhGbevBlI2zJ8m7uZDwM_JF0wqPm6P_vT9E

Below Mt. Shasta, a fight burbles over bottled water

Mount Shasta reigns over Siskiyou County, a commanding presence even when cloaked in clouds. The snow on its flanks percolates into a vast underground aquifer of volcanic tunnels and bubbling springs. Steeped in legend and celebrated for its purity, Shasta water is almost as mysterious as its namesake California mountain. Little is known about how much is actually stored there or how it moves through the subsurface fractures.

Locals and reverent pilgrims might have been the only ones to appreciate this water if it weren’t for the private companies now descending on the small towns at the mountain’s base. Ten different proposals have sought to bottle and send water to markets as far away as Japan. Four have been approved.

Nestlé, Crystal Geyser and startups like McCloud Artesian Spring Water, attracted to the region by its combination of water availability and economic decline, have been welcomed by county officials. This cradle of the state of Jefferson is generally resistant to regulations, and it has been particularly accommodating to bottled water. With the collapse of logging and mining before that, “other industries are not exactly beating a path to us,” says Siskiyou County Supervisor Ed Valenzuela.

But some residents of the towns scattered across this Northern California county are questioning the effects of commercial pumping on the aquifer and demanding more scientific information. Even as bottled water sales grow — from 9.2 billion gallons nationally in 2011 to 12.8 billion gallons in 2016 — numerous Western communities are resisting the companies determined to extract their water. Some, like the Siskiyou community of Dunsmuir, welcome the jobs, while others, such as McCloud, are fighting the attempts of international corporations to privatize their local water sources. “Water is a resource. It’s our resource. It’s why we are here,” says Bob Hall, former mayor of Weed.

The latest proposal to bottle Shasta water is aimed at McCloud, a faded logging town whose broad streets offer glimpses of the peak’s glaciered slopes. Dominating downtown is the century-old McCloud Hotel, built for lumber workers in an era when the sawmill provided the town’s electricity and steam heat. Today, the three-story hotel caters to skiers, hikers and anglers lured by one of the West’s most famous trout streams.

Across Main Street from the hotel is Mountain Community Thrift Center, an artfully arranged hole-in-the-wall with ice skates and vintage clothing for sale at bargain prices. On a cold January afternoon, Angelina Cook presides from behind the ironing board that serves as a sales counter. Lean and athletic, with weathered laugh lines around blue-green eyes, Cook has a gray-flecked braid that swings across her back. A McCloud resident and watershed advocate with the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center, Cook, 42, has spent 13 years working to protect the area from threats to its communities and ecosystems.

“And here we go again,” she says with a weary smile.

When Nestlé Waters North America came to McCloud in 2003, the community of 1,100 residents had just days to review the corporation’s proposal to pump 1,250 gallons a minute of spring water into a million-square-foot bottling facility. The McCloud Community Services District, the only local government, had entered into a closed-door agreement for a 100-year contract that placed no limits on the amount of surface and groundwater Nestlé could use.

Locals feared that Nestlé would siphon off the surface water that supplies their homes and gardens — an increasingly precious asset threatened by climate change. A grassroots coalition challenged the contract in Siskiyou County Superior Court, which ruled it null and void. It took five years of pressure before Nestlé scrapped its lobbying and legal efforts.

But the respite for Cook and other opponents was short-lived. In 2015, the McCloud Artesian Spring Water Company arrived with a new proposal: a small “boutique” operation using environmentally friendly glass bottles. On a damp January night this year, the three Sacramento-area contractors behind the company met with the public in a community clubhouse. Their modest original plans have grown to include a 100,000-square-foot plastic-bottling plant and the right to divert up to 200 gallons a minute for 25 years from Intake Springs, where the company’s pipes would be installed just above the water tank that supplies McCloud. They have no experience with water bottling, but were drawn to McCloud by its lack of other industries, says Brent Wiegand, one of the partners. “We think we can be a part of the solution for this town.”

Under its agreement with the services district, the company would pay $500,000 annually for spring water. The project would help fund the fire department, ambulance and other services, and provide around 30 well-paying jobs, says Kimberly Paul, the district general manager.

That’s more than Nestlé offered, says Cook, but the community still risks losing control of its water by giving the bottling company first priority. And the plant may preclude other businesses that might prove far more beneficial for McCloud without depleting the water supply: microbreweries, water parks, “businesses that use but don’t export water,” says Cook. “I am not opposed to attracting wealth to the region, but let’s do it in a way the community can benefit.”

Critics object to what they call sweetheart exemptions for bottling companies, citing a dearth of information about the water table and a lack of scientific studies on groundwater pumping’s impacts. Exporting groundwater out of the county requires a permit, but the ordinance
exempts bottling companies, and it doesn’t apply to spring water. State laws requiring local regulation of groundwater do not apply because most of Siskiyou County is not considered a groundwater basin.

Cook coordinated a 2016 ballot measure that would have required a permit for all groundwater exports. Nearly 56 percent of the voters rejected it, however. Fears that bottling companies will drain community water are unfounded, says Jill Culora, a spokeswoman for International Bottled Water Association. Bottled water comprises just 0.011 percent of all water and 0.02 percent of all groundwater used in the United States.

In an aquifer as convoluted as Shasta’s, it’s not easy to determine the effects of pumping groundwater or diverting springs for bottled water, says Gordon Grant, a hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station. With most of the 80 inches of annual precipitation seeping underground, some estimates suggest as much as 40 million acre-feet may be stored in the complex volcanic fissures — more than California’s top 100 reservoirs combined.

The residents of Mount Shasta City, 12 miles northwest of McCloud, want to learn more about their aquifer. They hope to bring some scientific scrutiny to Crystal Geyser’s proposal to reopen a Coca-Cola plant idled since 2010. Neighbors complained the previous operation depleted their household wells. But in 2013, Siskiyou supervisors authorized the new project with no public hearings and no caps on pumping groundwater, which pays nothing to the community. A citizens’ group demanded a review of the impacts and eventually won an environmental report certified in December.

It was not the victory they hoped for, says Bruce Hillman, president of We Advocate Through Environmental Review. The report contains numerous factual errors, relies on “old scientific data,” and provides no way for the county to enforce limits on pumping if the operation affects neighboring wells, he says. Crystal Geyser officials declined to comment.

County officials say they’ll be monitoring the company to ensure it does not harm the environment. “No one’s going to get a free ride,” says County Supervisor Valenzuela.

Hillman and his group are not convinced. With the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, they have asked a Siskiyou County judge to set aside the county’s environmental report.

In Weed, a gritty working-class town on the northwest flanks of Mount Shasta, former Mayor Hall has been watching the water table for decades. “We know it’s not what it was 40 years ago,” he says. Here, the expansion of a Crystal Geyser plant in operation since 1996 is eclipsed by a court battle over who owns the water in question.

Around the West, other rural communities are also contesting bottling proposals. Nestlé’s decade-old effort to open a plant in Cascade Locks, on the Columbia River in Oregon, failed in October, when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, D, halted a critical exchange of water rights. In Southern California, Nestlé is disputing a state report that says it lacks proper rights to about three-quarters of the water it withdraws from the San Bernardino National Forest.

Siskiyou County citizens are pressing for information about their water before more international corporations move in. The Mount Shasta group is involved in court-mandated settlement discussions with the county over the Crystal Geyser environmental review, while Weed’s citizens expect a ruling later this year on water ownership. In McCloud, a draft environmental review for the proposed bottling operation should be available in 2019.

From her perch behind the ironing board at the McCloud thrift store, Cook seems resigned to a long struggle over corporate prospecting for Shasta water. She shakes her head with a wry smile. “It’s nothing less than a water industry siege on Mount Shasta,” she says.

Jane Braxton Little writes on science and natural resources from Northern California.

Source: https://www.hcn.org/issues/50.9/communities-challenge-companies-over-bottling-mount-shastas-water

Walla Walla County commissioners move water bottling plan ahead

  • Mar 20, 2018
A controversial request to allow water bottling on agricultural lands in Walla Walla County took a step ahead Monday.
Walla Walla County commissioners voted unanimously to have the application by former county commissioner Perry Dozier move to the final docket of proposed amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan and development regulations.
However, commissioners noted the application will not be part of the county’s Comprehensive Plan update due at the end of June. Since it is a development-regulation amendment, it can be considered later this year after review by staff and further public hearings.
The request by Perry and Darleen Dozier to allow a small-scale, water-bottling operation on their farmland near Waitsburg has aroused numerous protests by Waitsburg residents and others.
At previous public hearings, the majority of those who spoke on the proposal said it would allow water in the area’s deep aquifer to be depleted by having it extracted and shipped away.
Opponents pointed to a recent attempt by the Nestle Corporation to establish a water-bottling plant in Waitsburg. That company’s 2016 proposal was met with a flood of protests by residents, which resulted in the city sending Nestle a letter declining its offer.
Commissioners Jim Johnson, Todd Kimball and Jim Duncan all said on Monday that they struggled to reach their decisions, but the matter boiled down to rights, water and otherwise.
“I do have serious concerns with what this application requests,” Kimball said. “Water, in my opinion, is not to be wasted.”
But he went on to say it was not his or anyone else’s place to say what someone with a water right should do with their water. As an example, water can be used to irrigate marijuana, hops and tobacco, he said.
“Just because you don’t agree with what someone is using their water right for does not give you the right to decide what they use their water right for,” Kimball said.
In his comments, Johnson said that although a recent state Supreme Court decision indicates local officials need to consider protection of natural resources in making land-use decisions, “this, in my view, is a land-use decision not a ‘water’ decision.”
Johnson went to say he shared the concerns of many that allowing water bottling in agricultural and resource lands could “lead us down a path we may eventually regret.”
For that reason, he said, allowing the Doziers’ application to continue by moving it on to the final docket gives the county Planning Commission, county commissioners and planning department staff “the opportunity to study the ramifications of water bottling throughout the county and work toward solutions or restrictions that, in the end, serve the interests of our citizens in a more comprehensive manner.”
In his comments, Duncan reiterated a point he made at an earlier public hearing, saying that recurring claims of involvement by Nestle are mistaken.
“The Nestle Company is not referenced in the Dozier proposal, and I believe that the Nestle collusion fear is a misconception,” he said.
But Duncan said he also has “serious concerns with the Dozier proposal as submitted in the preliminary docket.”
He agreed with the county Planning Commission’s opinion that the request is too broad and that, as recommended by Community Development, it should be placed on the final docket for more clarification, further analysis, consideration and staff recommendations.

 

Nestle/Cascade Locks Story from CRAG Law Center Point of View

Read the story below for a detailed history of the grassroots battle against Nestlé in the Gorge. Make a donation to Crag today so we can continue to provide legal support to protect Oregon’s precious water resources for future generations

In 2008, Nestlé showed up on Oregon’s doorstep with offers of jobs, economic growth and what they pitched as great opportunity for the town of Cascade Locks and the State of Oregon. Cascade Locks would get jobs and an economic stimulus, both important factors to help small towns thrive. What did Nestlé want in return? The rights to build a tax deferred water bottling plant and pump 150 million gallons of water a year from a pristine water source in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. Nestlé’s original overture was met with almost instant opposition and Oregonians have not stopped since.

Nestlé proposed to draw water from Oxbow Springs on state-owned land in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and then bottle the water in a new plant to be built in the City of Cascade Locks. Oxbow Springs are a network of natural springs in the Mt. Hood National Forest currently used by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) for its Little Herman Creek fish hatchery operation. Nestlé would pipe the water away from its natural drainage straight to its facility, to be put in single-use plastic bottles which would be loaded onto diesel burning semi trucks and carried through the Gorge.

Nestlé has an entire business unit devoted to bottled water and has the deep pockets to play a long game to ensure cheap sources. Just to give a few facts – in 2015 Nestlé made a 10.8% profit margin on bottled water products, and their bottled water business contributed over 8% of Nestlé’s total sales – and to put absolute numbers on that, Nestlé took in over $7 billion from its water business in 2016.

On the other side of the issue, there are community members of the Local Water Alliance, and members of the Columbia River Tribes including the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Yakama Nation, as well as the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. The local community opposition is supported by a number of environmental groups including Food & Water Watch, Bark, Sierra Club, and Environment Oregon, as well as many non-traditional allies including Oregon’s public employees union AFSCME, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Alliance for Democracy, and Sisters of the Holy Names.

The Early Days 

Upon learning the news of Nestlé’s attempted water grab, conservation and public interest groups formed the Keep Nestlé Out of Gorge Coalition to build awareness and opposition to the proposal. In 2010, at the request of Nestlé and the City of Cascade Locks, then-Governor Ted Kulongoski directed ODFW to initiate a water exchange with the City to trade 0.5 cubic feet per second (cfs) of Oxbow Springs water for municipal well-water. As part of this process, ODFW required certain changes to its water rights for the hatchery in order to actually exchange the spring water. ODFW filed two water rights transfer applications with the Oregon Water Resources Department seeking to split its water right and to move the point of diversion to Oxbow Springs. ODFW also filed a joint water exchange application with the City of Cascade Locks to trade the spring water.

The Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition led a powerful campaign to generate public comments on the applications. The Water Resources Department received an unprecedented number of comments in opposition to the transfers and water exchange on the basis that it is not in the “public interest” – a legal standard by which the exchange would be evaluated. Nonetheless, in 2012, the Water Resources Department approved ODFW’s water transfer applications, which would make Oxbow Springs water available for the exchange.

On behalf of Bark and Food & Water Watch, Crag Law Center filed protests to the Water Resources Department’s decision to approve the transfer and challenged the legality of ODFW’s water rights. This led to a lengthy legal process, lasting nearly five years, during which time Nestlé’s plans could not move forward. As the protest proceedings unfolded, Oregon experienced the pressures of our changing climate and opposition to Nestlé’s water grab gained new momentum.

When in Drought…

Water resources are held by the state in trust for its citizens. In 2015, Oregon’s snowpack peaked at the lowest levels measured in the last 35 years. In May through July of that year, Oregon recorded the warmest average temperatures since 1895. Nearly the entire State of Oregon, including Hood River County has faced significant drought in recent years. And while you may think that the record rains of 2016-17 were enough to change that, think again. In September 2017, more than half of the State of Oregon faced abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions – including the Columbia River Gorge scenic area.

Concerned about the future of their community and our shared public water resources, a group of Hood River County residents formed the Local Water Alliance. In September 2015, the group filed a ballot measure petition––The Hood River County Water Protection Measure––with the goal of ensuring a long-term water supply their families, farms, and fish. Measure 14-55 would prohibit the commercial production of bottled water in Hood River County and make the transport of water resources for that purpose illegal.

Crag Law Center represented Local Water Alliance in getting the Measure certified for the ballot after the County election officials rejected the petition. Once certified for the ballot, the campaign to pass Measure 14-55 was on in full force. Over 100 local businesses and farmers endorsed the measure. In May 2016, the Measure passed by a landslide, with over 68% of Hood River County voters saying “NO” to Nestlé.

Watch the film on Measure 14-55 from the Story of Stuff Project.

Ignoring the Will of the People?

Despite the passage of Measure 14-55, the State of Oregon and the City of Cascade Locks continued to pursue the Oxbow Springs water exchange, making clear that they would ignore the will of Hood River County residents and the Measure to push the Nestlé proposal forward. In the wake of the May 2016 vote, coalition members and leaders of the Columbia River Tribes held a rally at the State Capitol to put pressure on Governor Kate Brown to withdraw from the water exchange deal. As recently as October 2017, the City of Cascade Locks signaled it might challenge Measure 14-55 in court and remained committed to seeing Nestlé’s plans come to fruition.

Nestlé’s proposal not only threatens our precious water resources, but also means the increased manufacturing of wasteful plastic bottles. And based on its past practices in other communities, coalition members are reasonably concerned that Nestlé would not serve the rural communities’ best interests when bottling public water resources. If history is any guide, once Nestlé has established its plant, it will continue to seek additional water sources in the Gorge to add to its production line. Indeed, Nestlé has already attempted to get a foothold in communities in Washington.

Nestlé’s water bottling business has ignited many conflicts in the local communities where they locate, and the fights often go on for years. Sometimes communities are successful in keeping Nestlé out, but not always and not usually. Nestlé does not give up easily. Following the passage of Measure 14-55, they continued to maintain an office in Cascade Locks.

Victory at Last!

Finally, on October 27, 2017, Oregon Governor Kate Brown directed the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to withdraw the exchange application, effectively foreclosing Nestlé from gaining access to Oxbow Springs. In her letter to ODFW Director Curt Melcher, the Governor cited concerns over the uncertainty of Nestlé’s proposal in Cascade Locks in light of the passage of Measure 14-55 and the significant state resources that would be expended in seeing the project through to the end.

The Governor’s action was long-awaited and affirmed the message of nearly a decade of grassroots opposition: Nestlé’s water grab is not in the public interest. Shortly after the Governor’s directive and ODFW’s withdrawal of the exchange application, Nestlé packed up its things and closed down its office in Cascade Locks.

Crag, our clients, and the many individuals who have spent countless hours fighting to protect our public water resources are still pinching ourselves at the thought that we may have actually defeated Nestlé in the Gorge. Local Water Alliance and Crag Law Center will remain vigilant and ready to defend Measure 14-55 and the will of the voters against any challenge that may come. In the meantime, we will celebrate this great victory and channel the energy of this campaign towards protecting all of Oregon’s precious water resources from increasing threats. Make a donation to Crag to support our work.

Source: http://crag.org/people-said-no-campaign-nestles-water-grab-oregon/