Bid by Nestle to tap into Cascade Locks spring water open for public comment

Now is the time to tell Nestle what we think of their plan to bottle our water.

This article can also be viewed on the Oregonian.

Bid by Nestle to tap into Cascade Locks spring water open for public comment

Published: Thursday, September 02, 2010, 6:20 AM Updated: Thursday, September 02, 2010, 11:28 AM Scott Learn, The Oregonian

Nestlé Waters North America's bid to tap a Columbia Gorge spring for a new bottled water plant gets a crucial public airing this month as Oregon regulators consider a water exchange required for the project.

The exchange would swap city of Cascade Locks well water for spring water that feeds an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery now. That would free the city to sell the spring water to Nestlé to supply the company's first Northwest plant.

Nestlé, rebuffed in other Northwest towns, has proposed a $50 million plant in Cascade Locks that would draw upwards of 100 million gallons a year to fill bottles of Arrowhead and Pure Life water. It would also nearly double property tax collections in the city, population 1,050, and add 45 jobs, which has helped it garner support from Cascade Locks leaders and Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

A coalition of environmental groups led by Food and Water Watch is rallying against the plant. For now, it's focused on the Oregon Department of Water Resources, which put ODFW's water exchange application out for public comment earlier this week.

"This is the one time the people's voice has to be considered on this issue," said Julia DeGraw, northwest organizer for Food & Water Watch.

The coalition objects to selling Oregon water to a multinational corporation so it can put it in plastic bottles. It says the plants have not provided the economic benefits promised by Nestlé. And it says Nestlé and the state haven't studied the long-term impacts on Cascade Locks' water supply or on Herman Creek, which is fed by the spring.

In its application for the exchange, ODFW says the swap would benefit the hatchery by providing more water for fish in warm summer months, when the spring runs lower.

Nestlé is paying for a study of the effects of well water on fish, which should be completed by March. The company is conducting separate studies of the effects on stream temperatures, after activists raised concerns that well water flowing from the hatchery would raise temperatures in Herman Creek.

Even if the exchange between ODFW and Cascade Locks is approved, the project won't go forward unless the studies shows the project would benefit fish, said Rick Kepler, ODFW's manager of water quality and quantity.

Dwight French, water rights administrator for the water resources department, said the agency will scrutinize whether the water exchange is truly equal. But Nestlé is not a party to the exchange, French said, and the agency's staff will not consider environmental issues around bottled water plants.

"We may get comments about whether the plants are a good idea or not," he said, "but this exchange application is not for a bottling plant."

The application is open for public comment through Sept. 30. Direct comments to: Water Resources Department; Attn: Transfer Section; 725 Summer St. NE, Suite A; Salem, OR 97301-1266. Reference transfer number 11109.

-- Scott Learn