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Bigger Than Nestlé

In Oct. 2010, Mayor Dean Maxwell of Anacortes, Wash., signed a water contract with Tethys Enterprises (a venture capital company) to build the largest bottled water/beverage and food production plant in the United States—bigger than the Nestlé bottled water plant in Hollis, Maine. The Hollis plant is entitled close to one million gallons of water per day. Tethys Enterprises is entitled to five million gallons of municipal water per day.

Anacortes, population 15,778, is located on Fidalgo Island in the northwest corner of Washington State. A colorful history of mills and manufacturing define the town’s growth from the 1890s to the 1960s. Citizens at one time proudly called Anacortes the City of Smoke Stacks, the downtown waterfront referred to as Mill Row.

Primary employment included a dozen fish processing plants, ten shingle mills and three sawmills, a pulp mill, a plywood mill, box mills and brick and glass factories and boat building. Eventually fish and lumber depletion and changes in consumer demand changed the face of employment. The plywood mill operated until 1990. Marinas appeared where canneries and mills had been located. Tour-based industries grew due to the island’s easy access to the San Juan Islands. Today, Anacortes is comprised of high tech, chemical, food, engineered wood products and marine-associated companies. Boat building successfully continues. Shell Oil Company and Tesoro Corporation built refineries in the 1950s where agricultural lands had once thrived.

Due to the concept of peak oil—when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline—the Anacortes City Council and Mayor are scared of the jobs outlook regarding the Shell and Tesoro refineries, in part due to declining Alaska North Slope oil production.

In order to guarantee future jobs, Mayor Dean Maxwell and the Anacortes City Council are seeking water-intensive industries. They regard the Skagit River, the region’s major potable water source, as a business recruitment tool. The City of Anacortes is the region’s largest water purveyor, and its entitled authority holds senior water rights. Anacortes serves about 56,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers.

The City of Anacortes has calculated a 20-year municipal water demand that estimates residential, commercial and industrial use for the next 17 years to 2029, based on historical figures. A 17-year water calculation that does not include climate change studies is unacceptable. Complications include a prediction of 100,000 more people moving into the Skagit River Valley. Since changes in climate will influence Skagit River flows and Seattle City Light acquires 20-25 percent of it electricity from the Skagit River, who gets the water when the going gets rough? We have yet neither answers nor solutions due to a mindset that there is no urgency for long-term water conservation in a changing climate. A contract for the largest bottled water/beverage and food production plant in the United States that uses five million gallons of water per day is foolhardy.

        Defending Water is of the opinion that the City of Anacortes neglected due diligence. As evidence of Tethys Enterprises’ questionable business accountability, consider first its recently failed contractual one-year provision to acquire land by Sept. 30, 2011. The City of Anacortes extended this contract provision to Dec. 1, 2012. Second, Tethys Enterprises is a start-up corporation without a record of accomplishment. Third, Tethys allowed its Washington State corporate registration to expire on March 1, 2011. After Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin pointed out the failure publicly, Tethys reinstated its corporate registration to Nov. 30, 2011.

        Although the contract between the City of Anacortes and Tethys guarantees no number of local jobs, the Anacortes City Council is counting on Tethys’ questionable promise of 500 jobs in a highly tech, automated plant. Jobs are expected in exchange for the following:

  • Plastic bottles that plague our landfills and oceans.
  • Five million gallons a day of our potable water source.
  • Rail car traffic of 700-800 railcars per day through neighboring towns. (Anacortes itself will experience no rail car traffic.)
  • Future compromise of the Anacortes waste water plant.
  • Future unknowns of the Anacortes water treatment plant in connection with climate change.

         Anacortes can do better.

 Climate change, population pressures and pollution urgently mandate governments at all levels to manage and share the Skagit River in a sustainable fashion that meets the needs of nature, society and the economy. No single entitled authority need build its kingdom at the expense of others.

Over the past year, Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin has hosted educational presentations. Speakers included scientists from the Climate Impacts Group of the University of Washington. In addition, we have presented the award-winning documentary TAPPED and a virtual bottled water tour that addresses the processes, operations and scale of mega bottling plants.

        Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin is a grass-roots organization. We encourage communities to build water-sustainable businesses that provide good jobs. We encourage nationwide networking, so that we are all heard in one strong voice.

Sandra Spargo
Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin
Anacortes, Washington

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