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.”


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.


Facing denial, Jordan Cove LNG project withdraws application for key state permit

The backers of a controversial liquefied natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay withdrew their application for a key state permit Thursday rather than face denial after regulatorsrefused to extend their decision deadline and said the application was missing critical information.

The Jordan Cove Energy Project, owned by Calgary-based Pembina Pipeline Corp., had already applied for and received four extensions since filing an application with the Department of State Lands in November 2017. They sought a permit to remove material from the Coos Bay estuary and other bodies of water along the 230-mile route of the project’s feeder pipeline. The agency and company twice previously agreed to suspend the application.

The company said earlier this week that it was still submitting supporting material for other state permits and the Department of State Lands had requested that information be filed as part of its application for the removal-fill permit. It said it couldn’t submit that material in time for the agency to consider it and make a decision by its January 31 deadline.

According to a letter from Department of State Lands Directors Vicki Walker to Pembina earlier this month, however, the agency had been requesting other distinct information from the company for months.

State Lands spokeswoman Ali Ryan Hansen said the department was confident its request for additional information had been made both clearly and with sufficient time to respond. “The applicant was aware for a very long time of what we needed,” she said.

Jordan Cove can simply reapply for the permit when its ready and pay another $1,292 application fee. But Hansen said that would trigger an entirely new process, with a sufficiency review and a new public comment period. Last time around, the agency held five public meetings across the state attended by more than 2,000 people. It received some 49,000 comment on the application.

Jordan Cove said it would wait for a decision on its main federal permit for the project before deciding its path forward. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is slated to deliver its final environmental analysis of the project on Feb. 13.

Commissioners denied the project’s federal license in 2016, saying backers hadn’t demonstrated enough commercial support for the project to overcome the impact on landowners along the pipeline route. Pembina still doesn’t have signed purchase agreements with LNG buyers. But it does have a memorandum of understanding with Asian buyers and says it has reached easement agreements with 82% of landowners along the pipeline route.

Jordan Cove also needs permits from a variety of state agencies, including a water quality permit from the Department of Environmental Quality and a determination from the Department of Land Conservation and Development that the project is consistent with the state’s land use laws under the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Sen Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, sent out a news release Friday afternoon suggesting that Jordan Cove’s withdrawal of its application was part of a game plan to rely on the Trump Administration’s environmental deregulation to eventually win approval for the project. Part of Trump’s effort is to strip states of their authority to block energy infrastructure projects.

“This corporation has come to realize that their pipeline can’t come close to meeting Oregon’s environmental standards,” Golden said. “They believe their permit application has a better chance for approval if Oregon’s decision is delayed until after FERC makes its ruling.”

Ted Sickinger;


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.

Oregon Supreme Court Affirms Sale of Elliott State Forest Tract Is Illegal

November 27,2019

Center for Biological Diversity

Old-growth Forest East of Coos Bay Will Be Retained in Public Ownership

SALEM, Ore.— The Oregon Supreme Court today ruled that the sale of 788 acres of old-growth forest from the Elliott State Forest was illegal. The ruling affirms an Oregon Court of Appeals’ ruling from 2018, which found that selling the area known as East Hakki Ridge to a private timber company in 2014 violated state law.

“Oregon’s highest court has spoken, and it is illegal for the state of Oregon to sell off the treasured Elliott State Forest,” says Josh Laughlin, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands. “Those who appreciate clean water, stately forests and access to our public lands are the big winners today.”

Cascadia Wildlands, Audubon Society of Portland and the Center for Biological Diversity brought the lawsuit under an Oregon law, ORS 530.450, which states that it is illegal to sell the Elliott State Forest. State officials defended their decision to dispose of the parcel in court by saying the Oregon State Land Board, made up of the governor, secretary of state and treasurer, should not be required to follow the law.

“The decision by the state to sell off portions off the Elliott State Forest and avoid its legal obligations to protect imperiled marbled murrelets and the forests on which they depend was fundamentally flawed from the start,” said Bob Sallinger, conservation director at Portland Audubon. “Now more than ever, we need a strong forest plan for the Elliott that truly protects murrelets, spotted owls, coho salmon and other species that depend on our older forests.”

“This ruling affirms that the state should never have sold these beautiful public lands,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Elliott State Forest is a treasure to all Oregonians, providing critical habitat to coho salmon, marbled murrelets and people alike.”

The state’s privatization scheme was in direct response to a successful 2012 lawsuit brought by the same conservation organizations. That case halted dozens of old-growth timber sales on the Elliott, Clatsop and Tillamook state forests, where threatened marbled murrelets were nesting.

The imperiled seabird is unique, flying upwards of 40 miles inland to lay a single egg on a wide, mossy limb in the region’s remaining older rainforests. Clearcutting of its habitat is the bird’s primary threat.


ORS 530.450 withdraws from sale any lands on the Elliott State Forest that were originally part of the Siuslaw National Forest. The East Hakki Ridge parcel, located just south of the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area on Highway 38, fell within this category. The state viewed the disposal of East Hakki Ridge as a test case to sell off the entire Elliott State Forest to the timber industry. Under immense public pressure opposing the privatization of the Elliott in 2017, the Oregon Land Board, comprised of the governor, treasurer and secretary of state, eventually backed away from the plan, but not before the East Hakki Ridge was sold to Seneca Jones Timber Company, who immediately gated it off to public access.

Another parcel, the 355-acre Benson Ridge tract, was sold in 2014 to Scott Timber Company and is also currently subject to litigation by the same plaintiffs, who are fighting to protect the valuable marbled murrelet habitat it contains.

Currently the State Land Board is considering a proposal by the embattled Oregon State University College of Forestry to acquire and manage the Elliott State Forest as a research forest. Earlier this year the college was found to be clearcutting trees up to 420-years old on its McDonald Research Forest near Corvallis. OSU will present its progress to the Land Board at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting in Salem.

With today’s ruling conservation groups believe the state must reclaim these illegally sold lands and fully protect them in public ownership for the diversity of values they represent, including clean water, mature forests, salmon and wildlife habitat, carbon storage and reactional opportunities.

The plaintiffs in the East Hakki Ridge case were represented by attorneys Daniel Kruse of Eugene and Nicolas Cady with Cascadia Wildlands.


Wall Street spends millions to buy up Washington state water

WINTHROP, Okanogan County — Follow the water and you’ll find the money.

That’s how it often works in the dusty rural corners of Washington, where a Wall Street-backed firm is staking an ambitious venture on the state’s water.

Crown Columbia Water Resources since 2017 has targeted the water rights of farms on tributaries of the mighty Columbia River.

This March, the company sealed a $340,000 deal for Douglas County water.

The same day, it paid $1.69 million for a farming partnership’s water in Columbia County.

Two months later, the company spent nearly $1.61 million near Walla Walla.

Worldwide, as temperatures rise and aquifers dry, investors are increasingly bullish on water, and buying vineyards, farms and ranches for what’s underneath or flowing through.

In Washington state, there’s little water left unclaimed, according to the state Ecology Department. In the future, scientists expect less snowpack, more variable precipitation and more frequent summer water shortages.

Amid a changing climate, a population boom in Washington and churning development, Peterson’s client plans to buy, lease and sell water in a privately operated water market of its own creation. Crown’s activities here are unprecedented in scope for a private firm.

The company’s aggressive pursuit of water could put it in the vanguard.

Or it could all evaporate.

Ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Canada over the Columbia River could shift flows, potentially draining demand.

Crown has faced regulatory scrutiny from the state Ecology Department. And in emails, some officials privately expressed concern over Wall Street influence on water markets.

Some critics fear business models like Crown’s could lead to speculation or consolidation.

“We’re potentially allowing a marketplace to develop here that could be pretty destructive in the future,” said Paul Jewell, a policy director for the Washington State Association of Counties. “With a growing population and growing need for water, we’re going to be beholden to private interests with a profit motive for something that’s supposed to be a public resource.”

Meanwhile, the company’s attempt to buy water from a local family farm partnership in the Methow Valley riled nearby residents, ranchers and farmers, who were concerned that selling the water downstream would permanently end its use in their community and that their lifestyles might dry up.

“If you start selling your water off, you’re going to lose agriculture and that is losing your character, I believe,” said Craig Boesel, a Winthrop cattle rancher whose family homesteaded the land in 1889.

Wall Street and water

Peterson hails from Wenatchee, where the town’s namesake river meets the Columbia

After leaving for college in Seattle and law school in Portland, Peterson returned to Wenatchee as a small-town attorney who took on “pretty much anything that walked into the door.”

The market led him to water law. He soon began to view Washington’s arcane system as inefficient and wasteful.

“Washington state is way behind” among Western states, Peterson said.

For years, he’s eyed the 1,200-mile Columbia River, the irrigation superhighway of Central Washington, as an opportunity.

The valleys alongside the Columbia grow each year a cornucopia of high-value crops: apples, wine grapes, cherries and hops among them. When irrigated, Washington cropland is among the most valuable in the country, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Crown Columbia’s parent company, the Spokane-based Crown West Realty, acquired two commercial farms in 2014 and 2016 for more than $46 million, hiring Peterson to consult on water.

Petrus Partners, a Manhattan-based investment firm, controls Crown West Realty. The company’s founders have reported at least $298 million in investment offerings under the Petrus name, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The company’s website says about half of its capital comes from “retired partners of Goldman, Sachs & Co.” and that its real estate arm was founded to “capitalize on distressed investment opportunities following the collapse of the housing bubble.”

In Petrus and Crown, Peterson saw opportunity: The companies had money, management experience and enough distance to take a 10,000-foot view.

“They invest in anything that will turn a profit,” he said.

And Peterson saw fields of profit along the Columbia.

“Most of the ground in Eastern Washington is cultivated, but a lot of it is dry farms. If you irrigate the ground, you can get six, seven times the yield for the land,” he said. “People are clamoring for water along the main-stem Columbia.”

Farms on the fringe

An arcane system that dates back to the late 1800s governs Washington’s water.

In the earliest days, “you make a claim by sticking a piece of paper on a tree or in a public place that says you have the right to withdraw a certain amount of water,” said Jonathan Yoder, director of the State of Washington Water Research Center and professor of economics at Washington State University.

Fast-forward more than a century: Water rights, now managed by the Department of Ecology, are measured down to the molecule, Peterson joked.

In Washington, water is a public resource that can’t be owned. But the right to use water is exclusive and treated like a property right.

“New water rights are hard to come by. How else are you going to get water? You’re going to buy it.” — Jonathan Yoder, director of the State of Washington Water Research Center

The state keeps a sprawling online database of water permits, claims and certificates, including some that rely on photocopies of century-old paperwork. Water rights left unused for five years can be lost, or relinquished, for others to use.

During drought, the agency can restrict the use of some water rights to aid fish. Older water rights receive priority.

No longer are hammers, nails and paper sufficient to acquire water. Now, a coterie of pricey lawyers, consultants and engineers make a living on the process.

Where there’s a constraint, a market could develop, Yoder said.

“New water rights are hard to come by,” Yoder said. “How else are you going to get water? You’re going to buy it.”

Water rights transactions are notoriously hard to track. The state does not keep centralized data on water sales, said Harry Seely, of the consulting firm WestWater Research. Sales are often tied to land or farm assets. Water rights sales are subject to real-estate excise tax, but they aren’t always recorded and categorized in the same way. Market research often relies on word of mouth.

Where there is scarcity in Washington, Seely said water rights sales can fetch between $500 to $6,500 per yearly acre-foot, which is roughly equivalent to half the volume of an Olympic-size swimming pool. Crown spent $3,000 per yearly acre-foot for most of its water in Columbia County, according to a seller.

In other Western states like Colorado, where shortages are more acute, prices have stretched higher, fetching as much as $60,000 at auction for less than an acre-foot of water each year, according to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

In Washington, small water banks have operated locally for years, often redistributing large water rights to new uses nearby.

Peterson’s vision for Crown Columbia is bigger. It would allow water to be distributed across much of the state, which he thinks would be more economically efficient.

Agriculture has changed in the century since lawmakers began regulating water. Modern irrigation systems are more efficient, can send water farther and pump it uphill.

Farms have consolidated. The largest 4.4% of Washington farms, which are 2,000 acres and larger, operate about 74% of the state’s farmland, according to a Seattle Times analysis of 2017 Census of Agriculture statistics. Those farms also own an increasing percentage of the state’s irrigated land.

“In the tributaries, the farms are small. It’s hard for them to be economically viable at scale,” Peterson said.

These farms do have valuable water rights, which could be worth more downstream. Crown wants to buy and lease the rights of farms on the fringe, leave their water in stream and let gravity deliver it to the Columbia, where it could quench the thirst of vineyards, orchards or be used for ecological purposes.

“We’ll sell to anybody,” Peterson said.

Peterson’s concept hinges on rights held in the state’s Trust Water Rights Program, which allows users to park inactive water rights with the state to avoid losing them.

The program is designed, in part, so the Ecology Department can use parked rights to keep more water in streams, which helps fish struggling with waters too low or too hot.

For Crown, the program serves as a “vault” to protect its holdings, Peterson said. Crown eventually plans to operate a clearinghouse for water — buying, leasing and selling it. But before new water uses can begin, the parked water must be validated and approved by the Ecology Department.

Over the past two years, Peterson and Crown purchased at least $4.7 million worth of water rights across several rural counties, according to real estate tax records, placing some in temporary trust for terms of 20 years. Crown has reached agreements to market other entities’ water, too, Peterson said.

The company controls about 7,000 acre-feet it could lease or sell, Peterson said. This summer, it made its first loan of 600 acre-feet of water, to a Walla Walla-area farmer, he said. Each acre-foot was priced at $200 for one year.

But not every transaction has gone so smoothly.

A fight in the Methow

In the Methow Valley, water nurtures the land and the colorful personalities who depend on it.

So when retired lawyer Mary McCrea, of Twisp, last June discovered fine print in the Methow Valley News’ legal section that spoke to a local ranching family’s plans to sell water away from the valley, it left her gobsmacked.

She had worried for years that outsiders would come for the valley’s water.

Crown’s draft application, published online, sought to transfer the ranching family’s water right to trust and allow for future water use from the Chewuch River, near Winthrop, to the mouth of the Columbia River, more than 500 miles downstream.

The Lundgren Limited Family Partnership’s claim dates back to 1907, according to the legal notice.

A 1910 agreement with the Chewuch Canal Co. allows the Lundgren partnership to transport water using the company’s canal, which snakes across the landscape for more than 13 miles and delivers water to about 185 shareholders with farms, ranches and homes in the Winthrop area.

The draft application sought to place in trust the right to as much as 97 percent of the canal’s flow at any one point in time.

After the local paper, the Methow Valley News, published stories about the potential deal, “it was the talk of the town, at least in my circles,” said canal shareholder Betsy Smith, of Winthrop.

Those circles have changed for Smith, who is a veterinarian and the matriarch of a sheep-ranching family.

The construction of Highway 20 in the late 1970s, which spills past granite spires in the North Cascade mountain range, now connects the valley with Washington’s urbanized west side. A migration of money and burst of second-home construction amid the Methow’s dry Ponderosa pines followed, changing the complexion of the bucolic valley.

The Methow has become a hub for climbers and skiers. In summer, tourists swarm the streets of Winthrop, carrying ice cream cones between the saloons and general stores fashioned as an homage to the American West.

“The economy now isn’t necessarily based on agriculture,” said Casey Smith, 27, son and scion of BCS Livestock, the sheep-ranching operation. “It’s based on recreation and tourism. But it’s beautiful here because it’s a green landscape.”

Still, many livelihoods depend on irrigation.

An early May visit found those who work the land in the throes of “frantic springtime,” as Roger Rowatt, the president of the canal company, called the beginning of the irrigation season.

Days before, Rowatt, a miller, farmer and cabinetmaker who sports a white ponytail and an arrowhead goatee that points to his chin, kicked off the frenzy when he opened a sluice gate on the Chewuch River, allowing water to flow into the canal and down to shareholders.

“It’s a dry year,” said Brian Larson, a local orchard manager scrambling to fix a water pump before new trees arrived for planting. “Water is everything.”

A few miles away, the Smiths were coaxing sheep into a neighbor’s pasture.

“We graze on all irrigated pasture. Without that, we wouldn’t have food for the sheep,” Casey Smith said.

To him, water is a community resource. It galls him that someone would try to remove the “lifeblood” from the place he loves.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in five to 10 years. Having water will be increasingly valuable as the climate here gets warmer, drier and hotter,” he said. “One of the things that surprises me is that anybody that would be from this community, and embraces their community, would try to sell their water rights to someone far away.”

Like others, Rowatt fears water sold away will be removed from the Methow forever because it’s more valuable for agriculture in prime growing areas that can produce a higher yield for each acre.

“To sell out water and dry out an agricultural community to line the pockets of investment bankers, yeah, that bothers me,” he said.

Water, a public resource, shouldn’t necessarily go to the highest bidder, Rowatt said.

Peterson says the community misunderstood.

The application reflected the Lundgrens’ historic water claim, not the amount of flow Crown hoped to utilize, he said. Leaving water in the stream would help Chewuch River fish, he said. Water deposited with Crown could be leased or purchased by valley residents, too.

“If they wanted to preserve a community asset, this is the way to do it,” he said.

He balked at concerns over Crown’s private-equity backing.

“To say that somebody coming from New York with money must inherently be a bad thing ignores the realities of everyday life anywhere in America,” he said.

Earlier this year, Don Lundgren, who was attempting to sell the water right, told a reporter he did not understand the interest in his water deal and declined to make further comment.

“Aggressive acquisition”

As Crown pursued water, the Ecology Department grappled with its acquisitions.

The department’s Office of the Columbia River, whose mission is to aggressively pursue water solutions and find new supply for the basin, approved the company’s original trust water rights agreement in 2016.

Peterson credited Tom Tebb, the office’s leader, for helping develop his concept.

“We’re trying to facilitate the movement of water to its highest, best use,” Tebb said.

Other parts of the agency have closely scrutinized Crown’s water transfers, overturning local water decisions that were favorable to Crown. Ecology also opposed parent company Crown West Realty in court when it attempted to place millions of dollars of water into trust from wells at another of its real estate holdings, a Spokane industrial park.

Crown’s activities have stirred internal debate within Ecology.

“Overall, I think it is not a good sign that our Trust/Banking programs attracted Wall Street attention,” wrote Ying Fu, of the agency’s Spokane office, in an email thread about Crown Columbia’s Methow deal. Fu expressed concern that profits would be made on water held in “state sponsored ‘banks.’”

Dave Christensen, Ecology’s water resources policy and program development manager, last winter commissioned the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy to study water marketing.

“We are hearing (and have) concerns that continued aggressive acquisition and marketing will cross the threshold into outright speculation (if it hasn’t already gotten there),” Christensen wrote in a memo to staffers.

Christensen said in August the agency was investigating whether the trust water-rights program was contributing to potential speculation or being used for purposes outside of the Legislature’s original intent to improve stream flows and to allow water-rights reallocation. The department also is evaluating water banking, he said, and would make policy recommendations on the programs next year.

Jewell, the policy adviser for Washington’s counties, said he grew concerned over how water markets were operating in his last job as a Kittitas County commissioner. In his county about a decade ago, as development boomed, local, private water markets were able to command high prices without much competition. Jewell helped the county start its own water bank to compete and lower prices. He said the Ecology Department needs to be more proactive as companies acquire and consolidate resources.

“Ecology has really been a spectator in watching these water markets develop, and I honestly think pretty naive, in not taking a more active role in managing the system,” Jewell said. “If they don’t get ahead of this developing market, they could find themselves on the outside looking in pretty quickly.”

Dust settles in the Methow

Perhaps it’s the Methow’s beauty that has protective valley residents spoiling for civic showdown.

“There’s a history in the Methow of organizing,” said Rob Crandall, a canal shareholder who operates a nursery for native plants. “You’re not going to steamroll us.”

“That’s their happy place,” Peterson said with an eye roll.

The community has doomed many a development project with serious financial backing, perhaps because the projects had serious financial backing.

In the 1970s, valley residents fought plans for a ski resort.

Over decades, opponents wore down the Aspen Ski Co., ran a Bellevue group out of $12 million and town, too, and then boxed out a developer who had pivoted the ski project to a 560-home resort and golf course.

The project was ultimately doomed over water rights.

Once again, Methow residents rallied. Dozens turned out to local meetings about the Lundgren transfer. The canal company hired a Harvard-educated Winthrop lawyer, Natalie Kuehler, to object for her “fiercely protective” community.

Kuehler found the Lundgrens’ original claim was not filed with Ecology until 1998. She wrote to the department, arguing the claim was junior to the canal and the river’s instream flow rule, which is essentially a water right for the river itself.

Ecology agreed, making the water claim much more likely to be restricted.

“The monetary value took a deep dive,” Kuehler said.

This August, more than 14 months after Crown applied to put the Lundgren water right into trust, Crown pulled out.

“The Chewuch Canal Company did win this battle,” Rowatt said. “The issue is not over. Crown Columbia and people like them are trying to buy up every drop of water they can and move it out of the valley.”

McCrea is now pursuing statewide legislation to restrict the ability to transfer water out of local watersheds, which could foreclose Peterson’s dreams of a water market spanning much of the state.

As the climate warms, few forecast water decreasing in price. But more than money is on the line when bets are made on its future.

Information from The Seattle Times’ archives is included in this report.

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

The Guardian


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.

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.”


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