Nestlé test sees good fish outcomes. Opponent coalition seeks commenters

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September 8, 2010
By RaeLynn Ricarte The Dalles Chronicle

Cascade Locks City Manager Bernard Seeger said hundreds of rainbow trout are thriving in the eighth month of a 12-month experiment to see if well water offers the same living conditions as natural spring water. “The fish are doing great. We are experiencing a below normal mortality rate for the fish that we are monitoring,” he said.

The test arranged by city officials and Nestlé Waters of North America will determine if plans can move forward to site a bottling plant in the rural town. The company wants to purchase water from the city wells to replenish what would be drawn from Oxbow Spring for the operation.

Nestlé is paying for the fish study in hopes of gaining approval from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for the project. The company wants to construct a bottling plant within the city’s industrial park and purchase about 100 million gallons of well water each year. That water would be pumped into Oxbow to maintain the current level of the free-flowing stream. The plant is expected to create 50 direct jobs and another 24-50 jobs in related services, such as transportation and the construction of shipping pallets.

Seeger said, in addition to employment opportunities, Nestlé plans to spend $50 million on land improvements within the 25 acres of industrial property now owned by Hood River Sand and Gravel. He said the city would benefit by the large boost in property taxes paid by the company, as well as the sale of electricity and water.

The Nestlé project, which is still in the preliminary planning stages, is not without detractors. A coalition titled Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge has formed to fight the water exchange. “Citizens from the gorge and across Oregon are deeply concerned about the social and environmental impacts of selling our water to a multinational corporation,” stated Lori Ann Burd in a Sept. 3 press release. She is the Restore Mt. Hood campaign manager and staff attorney for BARK; both organizations are coalition members. Other members include: Food & Water Watch, Alliance for Democracy, Environment Oregon, Trout Unlimited, Columbia Group Sierra Club and Columbia Riverkeeper.

“This water comes onto state land from Mt. Hood National Forest, so it really belongs to all of us, and Nestlé’s plan is not an appropriate use of this precious resource,” wrote Burd. The coalition is asking people opposing Nestlé’s proposal to submit comments to the Oregon Water Resources Department. The agency is accepting public input on the water exchange until the end of September. E-mail letters will not be accepted. Correspondence should be mailed to: Water Resources Department, Attn: Transfer Section, 725 Summer St., NE, Suite A, Salem, OR 97301-1266, Transfer Number 11109.

Dave Palais, director of natural resource programs for Nestlé, said the concerns expressed by conservation and sports fishing groups are being addressed as they arise. For example, he said following a stakeholder meeting last spring, the company hired Cramer Fish Sciences, a Northwest consulting firm, to study water temperature patterns at Herman Creek Cove. He said anglers wanted to know if the water exchange would affect temperatures at a cold water refuge for fish where the creek meets the Columbia River. “We’re doing a lot of the work now that is necessary to evaluate a project like ours,” said Palais.

Seeger said the city is also doing additional studies to determine if the water capacity of the wells will be adversely affected by assisting Nestlé. He said Wallis Engineering of Vancouver is in the process of analyzing the flow and recharge rates in the well to determine how the exchange will affect resource availability. “Past tests have shown that there is plenty of water to meet the city and Nestlé’s demand so we’re really not too worried about what the engineer is going to report,” Seeger said.

Palais said people wanting more information on the scientific work now being done by Nestlé, or to learn more about the project, can access www.nestléwaterspnw.com.

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