Nestle Bottling Plant Proposed for Columbia Gorge

Mt. Hood National Forest’s 2009 Annual Monitoring Report states, “Ninety-eight percent of the Forest is somebody’s municipal water supply.” Many people know that most of Portland’s water supply comes from the protected forests of the Bull Run Watershed. However, more than a dozen other communities depend on water that originates in Mt. Hood National Forest. This natural resource on our public land represents one of our most valuable public assets.

After years of defending such an important public resource, Barkers bristled this summer when we began to hear the word “Nestle” thrown around. The Swiss multinational corporation, Nestle, is most recognizably associated with its chocolate. However, it is also one of the largest producers of bottled water and its exploitive reputation precedes them.

Currently, Nestle is proposing a new bottling plant in the town of Cascade Locks on the Columbia River, capturing the pristine water of Oxbow Springs. Although Nestle has not made any proposals to develop in Mt. Hood National Forest yet, the privatization of water originating on public lands is just a little too close for our comfort. We thought we should probably get clear on the details...

Nestle is proposing to tap (as opposed to pump) up to 100 million gallons of water a year from the Oxbow Springs. The springs are part of the Herman Creek watershed, known for its outstanding trail system. Herman Creek is also a refuge for threatened steelhead. Currently, the spring supply a salmon and steelhead hatchery run by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

For Nestle to get the rights to bottle the water there are a couple of initial steps that would have to take place. ODFW would have to find a replacement for the water they are currently using from the spring. Any new water source would have to take a year for testing to be sure that the fish could survive. They started this process a few months ago, using well water from another source. The water was contaminated by chlorine and within hours, it killed all the fish in the hatchery. Using well water is not unheard of in a hatchery, however it often comes at a higher cost to the hatchery (in this case, a tax-payer funded hatchery) and would require new infrastructure.

Assuming a replacement source is found, ODFW would transfer water rights to the town of Cascade Locks. Additionally, The Oregon Water Resources Department would then have to sing off on the water rights transfer to Cascade Locks. At that point the town council would then vote on whether to allow Nestle to purchase water from the town. Should Nestle become a customer of the municipal water supply, they would be purchasing the water for a bargain of a fifth of a cent per gallon. Nestle would then sell this same gallon for about a buck and a half – a 1500% profit!

Some of the leadership in the town of Cascade Locks has been openly advocating for this project to go forward, with the support of the Governor’s office. The promise of about 50 new jobs in the town of Cascade Locks, where unemployment is some of the highest in the state, has created yet another predatory scenario that Nestle has become infamous for. Most small towns don’t want large trucks coming and going every eight minutes through downtown. Most residents living with a beautiful view such as the scenic Columbia River don’t want the value of their homes to go down with increased industrial development. And almost nobody likes the idea of their drinking water getting sold off for huge profits, especially in nonrenewable plastic bottles that will stick around our landfills for generations to come. But Nestle knows that. It has already lost that fight in McCloud, California, Chafee, Colorado, Fryburg, Maine, and Mecosta, Michigan.

There are several groups working together to support the residents of Cascade Locks who don’t want a multinational bottling plant in their community; low-wage jobs or not. If you are interested in getting involved in this effort, contact amy@bark-out.org and stay tuned for upcoming actions you can take.

Welcome to Oregon, Nestle...