Eugene Weekly: Nestle Wants Your Water

by Ted Shorak
Eugene Weekly

The giant multi-national food company, Nestlé, has its eye on Cascade Locks, a small town east of Portland, for its first water-bottling plant in the Pacific Northwest. But environmental watchdog groups and locals are having none of it.

Oregon has had an uneasy relationship with bottled water in recent years. The UO has flirted with the idea of banning plastic water bottles on campus, and Pacific University did so in 2011. The UO’s Take Back the Tap campaign has resulted in drinking fountains with spigots for refilling reusable water bottles and a campaign to give out free reusable bottles.

But the proposed Nestlé plant brings up other issues as well, such as public access to water and whether private companies should be able to own and control large amounts of Oregon’s water supply. This is an issue Lane County residents face as well as climate changes makes water even more valuable. Willamette Water Co., a private company, has been trying to get the rights to 22 million gallons a day of water out of Eugene’s water source, the McKenzie River.

The proposed Columbia Gorge plant at Cascade Locks would draw water from Oxbow Springs and could potentially take up to 160 million gallons of spring water a year, according to grassroots organizer Meredith Cocks with BARK, a watchdog group that monitors natural resource use in the Mount Hood National Forest area.

“A bottling plant doesn’t belong in a national scenic area,” she says. The group is also concerned about impacts on water temperatures in the creek, which feeds into the Columbia River and could affect salmon in the area.

She says Nestlé has a bad track record in other places such as Michigan, where one of their bottling plants had adverse effects on ground water.

“They’re not necessarily someone we want to trust automatically to do what is best for the public interest with water resources,” Cocks says.

A Mother’s Day protest aimed at Gov. Kitzhaber was organized by BARK, WaterWatch of Oregon and Resources for Health. H2Origami, a youth activist group from Resources for Health, sent 1,000 origami cups to Kitzhaber on Earth Day asking him to act on the plant’s permit process before Mother’s Day. He did not. So, on May 13 they showed up at the capitol and delivered a mix of another thousand origami cups and various wildlife with testimonials asking him to stop the plant’s development.

“The objective was basically to expose the governor for his lack of willingness to stand up for water resources,” says Cocks.