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.


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.”


Yakama and Lummi Nations Call for Removal of Three Columbia River Dams


Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director,Columbia Riverkeeper

Today I stood on the Columbia’s shores at Celilo Park and watched history in the making. Yakama Nation, supported by Lummi Nation, announced a bold vision: a Columbia River teeming with salmon, a restored Celilo Falls, and a Pacific Northwest powered by clean energy that does not drive salmon and orca to extinction. Yakama Nation Chairman Jode Goudy stated: “The Columbia River dams were built on this false legal foundation [the doctrine of discovery], and decimated the Yakama Nation’s fisheries, traditional foods, and cultural sites.”

Salmon—and the people and orcas that depend on salmon—are in crisis. Today the Yakama and Lummi nations called on federal leaders to remove the John Day, The Dalles, and Bonneville dams. Columbia Riverkeeper stands in solidarity with Yakama and Lummi nations. We respect the tribes’ rights to advocate for and defend treaty rights, including today’s vision of a free-flowing lower Columbia River.

For Columbia Riverkeeper, it comes down to this: the decades-long effort to recover endangered salmon is not working. The Columbia River is too hot for salmon survival. The stagnant reservoirs behind the dams create dangerously hot water. Climate change is pushing the river over the edge. Year after year, the river gets hotter. The system is broken.

Dam removal is a complex issue that will require intense analysis and must ensure solutions for clean and reliable electricity and transportation. In the decades ahead, I’m confident we can replace the dams with truly clean energy, transport cargo to ocean ports, and save salmon runs from extinction. What about flood control? The three lower Columbia dams are “run-of-the-river” dams and do not provide significant flood control, unlike large storage dams in British Columbia.

Re-powering the Pacific Northwest with wind, solar, and battery storage will create local jobs for decades. This transition will take time, and it’s smart to start planning today. It may have been heresy to say this 40 years ago, but hydropower is not clean energy. It is destroying salmon runs, orcas, and cultures that depend on salmon. And it’s not cheap anymore; wind and solar are becoming more affordable than electricity from dams. In this age of extinction and climate change, we must take bold action.

When was the last time you were asked to imagine the unimaginable? Imagine a free-flowing Columbia coursing through the Gorge. Imagine record salmon runs returning year after year. Imagine the roar of Celilo Falls, which some still remember.

As you let today’s historic announcement sink in, join me in embracing Yakama and Lummi Nation’s callto consider bold, new ideas. Just imagine.

Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director


Washington state Lewis County fight against water bottler

As a member of Columbia Riverkeeper, we thought you’d appreciate this story of corporate greed and community resistance.
Big kudos to the people of Lewis County who are taking on Crystal Geyser and winning!

Email goof leaks corporate playbook

Columbia Riverkeepers

It’s rare to get a glimpse inside the multinational corporation playbook, but water bottling giant Crystal Geyser lays bare its strategyif the local community does not support its extractive project, bring on the astroturfing and extortion!

Crystal Geyser purchased land to build a controversial water bottling plant on the Cowlitz River in Randle, WA. Chief Operating Officer, Page Beykpour, intended to send a strategy email to the CEO, Ronan Papillaud, but instead emailed the local paper. The Daily Chronicle, like any good media outlet, published the email.

The COO emailed his boss to say, “As this project stands, it is dead because the opposition has successfully convinced officials and media against us.” That’s right. Residents organized to protect their community and the Cowlitz River, including an inspiring grassroots effort by the Lewis County Water Alliance. Instead of respecting the community and moving on, the COO laid out three strategies.

  • Strategy 1: Beykpour wrote, “Hire a PR firm solely for the purpose of gathering grassroots supporters.” 
    Translation: Nobody likes our project so let’s buy support.

    Buying fake grassroots support is astroturfing. In case his CEO was not familiar with this old chestnut of a corporate strategy, the COO gave him a primer. “Once we have gained enough people, we mobilize them in the same fashion as the opposition (reach out to County officials, media, governmental agencies). Along these lines, I’ve already lined up local contractors and their subs to gather their employees.”

  • Strategy 2: “We sue the subdivision [next to the proposed bottling plant] for their damage to the aquifer due to irrigation and septic system failures. Hopefully, this gets them to the table and they are prepared to have an open minded conversation . . . .”
    Translation: We have a lot of money to pay high-powered law firms to bring baseless lawsuits to intimidate the neighbors. Make no mistake. This is extortion—trying to obtain something through threats and intimidation.
  • Strategy 3. “A combination of one and two.”
    You can’t make this up!

    This astroturfing and extortion approach is disgusting. Crystal Geyser provides a raw look at corporate greed and contempt for local people. If you have millions of dollars you can hire a PR firm to manufacture support. This may include buying advertising, creating scholarships, and sponsoring the little league team. Crystal Geyser’s “sue the subdivision” strategy is dark and cynical, but also not surprising. The COO writes they have “nothing to lose” in putting the neighbors through this painful lawsuit. Perhaps Crystal Geyser’s lawyers will alert their clients it is unethical to sue people for the purpose of intimidation. Don’t count on it. These same lawyers threatened to sue the Chronicle “for all damages affordable by law” for printing Mr. Beykpour’s email, stating incorrectly “it is against the law for you to print it.”

Crystal Geyser, which has bullied other towns, is obviously bad at this—they missed the memo that you’re supposed to line up support before you announce the project. But many other corporations have perfected this dark art. Here on the Columbia River where I work, fossil fuel companies are targeting communities with refineries and shipping terminals for coal, oil, and fracked gas. When big polluters roll in, our cities and towns are at a huge disadvantage. The corporations have slick lobbyists, a squadron of attorneys, and consultants who give all the right answers. They do the rounds with local politicians. First they get everything lined up, then they announce the project to the public.

The best way to protect our communities and rise above this tactic is through strength in numbers. By joining a local environmental group, you are standing up to protect clean water and local voices. You are empowering real grassroots organizers and community members to engage in our democracy at the local level, where all is not lost yet. And unlike Crystal Geyser’s embarrassing gaffe, non-profit organizations are proud of our playbooks. In fact, we shared our playbook in our last newsletter.


Lewis County Board of Commissioners voted August 5, 2019, to impose a moratorium on permits seeking water extraction in rural Lewis County and certain standalone food and beverage manufacturing applications — much to the appreciation of a large gathering of Lewis County Water Alliance members who have fiercely voiced their opposition to a proposed Crystal Geyser water bottling facility in Randle.

County Approves Moratorium That Would Stop Crystal Geyser Project

The Daily Chronicle (serving greater Lewis County Washington)

The Lewis County Board of Commissioners voted Monday morning to impose a moratorium on permits seeking water extraction in rural Lewis County and certain standalone food and beverage manufacturing applications — much to the appreciation of a large gathering of Lewis County Water Alliance members who have fiercely voiced their opposition to a proposed Crystal Geyser water bottling facility in Randle.

The moratorium, said civil deputy prosecutor Eric Eisenberg, will allow time to study possible changes to zoning code that will protect natural water and rural sites from harmful development.

The measure comes following a push by opponents of the plant to disallow large-scale commercial water bottling. A group known as the Lewis County Water Alliance is slated to have a workshop with the Planning Commission in August to further discuss that request. They asked commissioners for a moratorium until the land-use panel weighs in — preventing Crystal Geyser from filing a permit to get “grandfathered” in before changes can be made.

The issue centers around the county’s decision last year to allow standalone food and beverage manufacturing in rural zones — a change designed to accommodate breweries and wineries, but one that opened the door to Crystal Geyser’s proposal for a 100,000 square foot bottling plant that would extract 400 gallons of water per minute from springs at a property on Peters Road. Members of the Planning Commission are considering rolling back that change.

Since then, Eisenberg said, opponents of the Crystal Geyser project asked whether it was a mistake to open the door for such a large company to propose such a significant project. That’s a question, Eisenberg said, that’s worthy of careful consideration. A public hearing is set for 10 a.m. Aug. 26.

“At the end of the day, a moratorium is a temporary measure. It’s just a pause button. It can be changed and lifted at any time — as quickly as a Monday meeting can occur,” said Eisenberg, adding that in the meantime multiple perspectives on necessary zoning amendments will be heard.

The moratorium is narrow so as not to be too disruptive to those seeking permits, but also affects all rural property in Lewis County — so as not to target Crystal Geyser’s project specifically and to prevent any further development residents say would compromise the rural character of the county landscape.

While the moratorium pauses permits allowing the extraction of water for sale, it allows water to be extracted and placed back into the waterway — a practice of certain mining and industrial facilities to extract elements from the water. And while it pauses applications for standalone food and beverage manufacturing sites, it won’t affect commerce that doesn’t hit the threshold “below which Ecology doesn’t make you get a permit.”

He used the example of a lemonade stand. Water taken to make lemonade will be minuscule enough that it won’t be affected by the moratorium; it’s the large-scale extraction that falls under its parameters.

Additionally, it will still allow studies of water extraction to be conducted.

Before all three county commissioners voted to put the moratorium in place, several community members made public comments urging them to do so, and thanking the county for taking their concerns into account.

East County residents, tribal members and environmentalists have voiced opposition to the project, saying it will compromise the rural nature of the land and affect water levels and fish habitats.

Commissioner Gary Stamper, whose district includes the Peters Road property, thanked the Water Alliance for their persistence and their attendance at a planning commission meeting — saying it’s the input of various committees and commissions that help the commissioners make the best decisions.

Upon the passage of the moratorium, a crowd of people — many wearing blue denoting their membership or support of the Water Alliance — took to their feet in a standing ovation, many holding signs that read “Thank You Lewis County.”


Environmental group to use North Coast microplastics data to push for water quality standards

After years of surveys and beach cleanups, microplastics data collected at Fort Stevens State Park and Crescent Beach near Ecola State Park will be at the forefront of an environmental group’s push to influence state policy.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a West Coast nonprofit, is submitting data from several Oregon beaches to the state Department of Environmental Quality in an attempt to list the nearby water as contaminated.

“If the beach is contaminated, there’s good reason to believe the water nearby is, too,” said Blake Kopcho, the center’s oceans campaigner.

Doing so would empower the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require the state to find ways to keep the water cleaner. The center ultimately hopes this will lead to reduction efforts to keep plastics out of the ocean.

“The goal is to get action to get to the source,” Kopcho said. “Beach cleanups are great, but ultimately we have to figure out how to stop (plastic) before it gets into the waterway.”

No states on the West Coast have water quality standards that directly address microplastics, which studies show bioaccumulate carcinogenic compounds that can be released into the water and air.

Microplastics are detrimental because they can transfer into the marine food chain and eventually into people.

“There isn’t a narrative for microplastics. States set limits on other contaminants, like mercury, for example. If levels are exceeded, the state has to find a way to mitigate,” Kopcho said. “There are no water quality standards that say ‘there can’t be this level of microplastics in the water.’”


Finding solutions


For better or worse, the North Coast has gained a reputation for a microplastics problem, as well as solutions to address it.

The region is the birthplace of the first-ever microplastic filtration system, which has helped remove thousands of tiny pieces of plastic degraded from larger waste in cleanup drives organized by the environmental nonprofit Sea Turtles Forever.

“Trash Talk,” a program to convert plastics into jewelry that is sold to support the Haystack Rock Awareness Program, has raised regional awareness about plastic pollution since last year.

But despite local efforts, the problem continues to grow. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at least 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. About 1.5 million metric tons of plastic in the ocean are estimated to be microplastics.

Surveys have shown plastic accumulation doubling at Crescent Beach. Fort Stevens State Park has a figure as high as 11,000 pieces per square meter, while other Oregon Coast beaches sit closer to 800 per square meter.

In the past two weeks alone, Sea Turtles Forever has removed more than 1,000 pounds of microplastics just from Cannon Beach sands north of Whale Park.

“Last year it only took us three days to clean this section of the beach. This year, it took 14,” Marc Ward, the group’s founder, said. “That’s easily four times as much from last year. It’s not getting better.”

Ward said strong tides pushing up against river currents could be partly to blame for high concentrations of plastics on Clatsop County beaches. Multiple plastic mold injection companies in the Portland metro area could be contributing to more plastic entering local waterways, he said, but plastic has been identified from all over the Pacific Rim.


Regional approach


That’s part of the appeal of the regional approach to change water quality standards, Kopcho said.

“It’s really hard to tell where this plastic is coming from,” he said. “Is it coming from a pellet plant? Is it plastic in the gyre? But the good part about getting listed is it gives each state flexibility to address their amount of pollution.”

Ways to do this, Kopcho said, include plastic disincentives, like recent bans on plastic straws, or offsetting microfiber plastic pollution that comes from washing machines.

A United Nations study found about a third of all microplastic releases come from laundering synthetic textiles, like polyester or nylon clothing. The state could use technology to filter the microfibers before they enter the ocean via outfalls from the sewer system, or institute taxes on clothes with synthetic textiles to curb consumption.

Requests like these will be reviewed by the state and conclusions be will be published by the end of the year, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

“We’re creatively looking for ways to address plastic pollution problems, and we think this is a powerful avenue to get there,” Kopcho said.


School district does water bottle filling experiment

(Note:  Food & Water Watch and Corporate Accountability International had these programs well over ten years ago.)
DEQ hopes Gresham pilot project spurs more use of refillable stations at Oregon schools

A state-funded experiment at 10 Gresham schools found that students using new water-bottle filling stations poured the equivalent of several hundred thousand plastic water bottles’ worth into their own reusable containers, in just five months.

Initially, the city of Gresham applied for an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality grant to fund water-bottle filling stations, to encourage students to opt for refillable water bottles instead of purchasing and consuming single-use plastic water bottles.

But DEQ officials wanted to use the project as an experiment, to study whether students at high schools and middle schools with ready access to water-bottle filling stations are more likely to use refillable water bottles than students without such access, said Elaine Blatt, a DEQ senior policy and program analyst.

“The real value in using reusable bottles is displacing the manufacturing of single-use bottles and their associated environmental impact,” Blatt said.

In exchange for taking part in the pilot program from March through October, the DEQ paid for 17 new water-bottle filling stations at the schools, each with a price tag of $862. Seven of the schools are in the Gresham-Barlow School District and three are in the Centennial School District.

DEQ officials wanted data regarding student usage to encourage school districts across the state to install water-bottle filling stations, Blatt said.

Petroleum and other chemicals are used to make the plastic bottles, a process that also requires large amounts of water, energy and creates carbon emissions, said Jaylen Schmitt, a natural resource specialist with DEQ’s Materials Management Program. Plastic water bottles also are routinely tossed as trash, winding up littering public parks, natural areas and the ocean.

Despite these environmental drawbacks, demand for bottled water keeps rising.

In 2015, bottled-water sales in the United States hit an all-time high, rising 7.9 percent over 2014, which saw a 7 percent increase over the prior year, according to National Geographic magazine.

Americans in 2015 bought the equivalent of 1.7 billion half-liter bottles of water every week. That’s more than five bottles a week for every man, woman and child in the country.

We also spend more per gallon for bottled water than for tap water.

As part of the nearly five-month pilot program, the 10 participating schools were divided into three groups: those receiving “water-wise” education about the environmental merits of refillable water bottles, those that got additional filling stations, and those that got both.

Students also took part in blind taste tests to see whether bottled water tasted different than tap water.

“Most couldn’t tell the difference,” Schmitt said.

Some students even agreed to sign a pledge to use refillable bottles.

Students at the three “education only” schools also learned about the bottled water industry. Their schools didn’t receive additional filling stations until after the study was over.

Three other schools received extra filling stations and offered their students the same lessons regarding bottled water usage and the environmental effects of single-use bottles.

Four schools received additional filling stations but no education about the industry or environmental impacts.

Meanwhile, monitors on the new filling stations tracked each 20-ounce fill.

State officials are still analyzing data from the pilot project. A final report will be published by the end of the year on DEQ’s website.

Blatt said the results could help encourage school districts throughout Oregon to install reusable water-bottle filling stations. Whether grant money will be available to help fund the stations has yet to be determined.

City officials in Gresham are just glad to have more tools to help students make greener choices.

“The installation of these water-bottle filling stations will benefit our schools and community for years to come,” said Meghan Borato, Gresham’s waste reduction specialist.

Preliminary DEQ findings

• At the 10 schools combined, students used water-bottle filling stations to drink the equivalent of 2,900 disposable bottles of water per school day.

• During the five-month pilot study, students used the filling stations to drink the equivalent of 330,000 single-use plastic water bottles. That would be 623,000 single-use bottles over a full school year.

• Laid side by side, those plastic bottles would span the distance from Gresham to Sandy and back.

• To produce and transport those 623,000 water bottles and manage the resulting waste would require 367 million BTUs of energy, the equivalent of 5,540 gallons of gasoline.


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.


Westland Water Users hope to educate, not miss future opportunities

A group of Westland Irrigation District patrons is mounting a public information campaign after missing out on Columbia River water supplies.
George PlavenEast Oregonian

November 4, 2017 9:07PM

A group of Westland Irrigation District patrons is mounting its own public information campaign to provide greater knowledge and transparency of water law in the Umatilla Basin.

The effort comes in the middle of a lawsuit filed against Westland by other district members who claim they are being cheated out of their senior water rights. The litigation prompted Westland to abandon the Central Project in May, which would have secured water from the Columbia River.

In response, the Westland Water Users Group formed over the summer with a core team consisting of Kevan and Patty Horn, Mike Taylor, Hoss Hodges, Rob Cox and Raymon Smith. The goal, Cox said, is to educate patrons so they can make more informed decisions in the future.

“The district is going to have future opportunities and issues that come up,” Cox said. “We want people to vote on those things based on the best information available.”

Together, the group has researched the history of Westland dating back to 1862, when Umatilla County was first established. It has also compiled a number of fact sheets explaining how water is delivered and water rights are managed within the district.

The group is not affiliated with the Westland board of directors or manager.

“We just wanted the patrons to be educated,” Cox said.

Losing the Central Project especially hurt, Hodges said, because it cost farmers the chance to grow potentially more valuable crops. Unlike the neighboring Hermiston and Stanfield irrigation districts, Westland does not have the ability to pump water from the Columbia River when flows in the Umatilla River drop below a certain point to protect fish.

That means Westland relies solely on Mother Nature — as well as supplemental water stored in McKay Reservoir — during irrigation season. The $14.4 million Central Project, designed by the Northeast Oregon Water Association, would have allowed the district to draw mitigated Columbia River water for patrons who agreed to buy in to the pipeline.

Instead, Westland board members backed out of the proposal in order to defend the district against the misappropriation lawsuit. Patty Horn said it was the second time the district has failed to capitalize on Columbia River water, and she did not want to see it happen again.

“I think if there was an educational clarification to the patrons, it would be really worthwhile,” Horn said.

The lawsuit against Westland, filed in Umatilla County Circuit Court, accuses the district of misappropriating senior water rights from 2010-2016 at the benefit of a few larger farms with junior rights. The plaintiffs are seeking a combined $4.14 million in damages.

Though the Westland Water Users Group insists it does not take sides in the case, it estimates that if the lawsuit succeeds, it will cost each patron a one-time payment of $360.70 per acre to cover the district’s attorney costs and settlements. Each patron will also see an annual fee increase of $36.26 per acre.

Horn said the group is now trying to organize an educational seminar for district patrons sometime within the next five to six weeks.

“It should only help the board. It should only help the manager. It should only help the district,” she said.

Information about the Westland Water Users, including the group’s research, is available online at

District election

The Westland Irrigation District will hold an election Tuesday, Nov. 14 for one position on the board of directors.

Incumbent Jack Bellinger is running against challenger Ray Vogt. Polling will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the district office, 77096 Highway 207, Echo. Registration to vote may be completed prior to the day of election or on election day prior to voting.

Voting provisions are in place for absentee landowners, multiple ownership of land and ownership by a corporation, trust or LLC. For more information, contact the Westland office at 541-667-2030.


Contact George Plaven at or 541-966-0825.


Plans for Nestle water bottling plant in Cascade Locks moves forward despite ban

October 18, 2017


Plans for a Nestle water bottling plant in Cascade Locks continue to move forward, in spite of a voter-approved ballot measure prohibiting such a plant in Hood River County.

In May, 2016, voters in Hood River County passed a measure that banned large water bottling operations, which many thought signaled an end to Nestle’s ambitions for the Columbia River Gorge, but despite the vote, the city of Cascade Locks has been quietly moving forward with its plans to secure a share of the spring water that flows from Oxbow Springs, which is coveted by Nestle.

“We’re still following what we believe our citizens want and what the city council wants,” said Gordon Zimmerman, City Administrator for Cascade Locks.

Oxbow Springs feeds the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Oxbow Fish Hatchery. The agency is currently in the process of trying to exchange some of its spring water for an equal amount of water from Cascade Locks, which draws its drinking water from the same aquifer.

The water exchange process is lengthy, and requires the approval of the Oregon Water Resources Department.

“I still would like to think it could happen. I think most of the community still supports it,” said Brad Lorang, a Cascade Locks Port Commissioner who was mayor when talk of Nestle Coming to town first started. “We had an economist do the trickle-down effect of this type of industry, and we’re talking about a 23 million dollar a year overall impact to the city.”

But Julia DeGraw, a Portland-area representative for Food and Water Watch who helped fuel the push for the ballot measure to block Nestle, said the opposition won’t back down either.

“The Hood River County voters have spoken. Almost 70 percent of them decided that they did not want to see commercial water bottling happening anywhere in Hood River County,” said DeGraw.

Zimmerman, though, said he doesn’t believe the ballot measure would hold up to legal scrutiny, with one of the primary questions being whether a county government has the authority to tell a city government what it can and can’t do with its resources.

“The courts have never ruled on one charter overriding another charter. This may be the test case,” said Zimmerman.

Complicating things further, Oxbow Springs itself, while inside the Cascade Locks urban growth boundary, is outside city limits.

“You don’t have to be an expert to look at a map and see the spring water in question, Oxbow Springs’ water, doesn’t exist in the city limits of Cascade Locks. That water is solidly on county land, and the laws should apply,” said DeGraw.

DeGraw said her organization will continue to oppose any kind of water bottling plant in the Gorge on the principle that water is a common resource that should not be turned into a commodity.