Keeping Nestlé Out of the Gorge

Public pressure has delayed Nestlé’s proposal to profit from public Mt. Hood water for years. Nestlé initially planned to break ground for its bottling facility in Cascade Locks in 2010. Over two years later it has made little progress and legal action by Bark and Food & Water Watch continues to hold the agencies managing our water accountable. The process for Nestlé to get its hands on the pristine water flowing from Oxbow Spring is not as simple as it may seem. Because this water is a public resource that is owned by the State of Oregon and utilized by the state-run Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), three permits must be approved by a second state agency, the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD), to transfer water rights to the City of Cascade Locks who plans to then sell the water to Nestlé. Although Nestlé would not legally obtain water rights, the permitting process is aimed at a de facto privatization of public water, and exposes a disturbing willingness of two publicly funded state agencies to pour time and resources into Nestlé’s dirty work.

Bark and Food & Water Watch, represented by Crag Law Center, are currently undergoing legal challenges to the first two of three permits, which were passed by the OWRD in February of 2012. These legal challenges have so far delayed the permitting process seven months since the initial approval. The current legal challenges are moving on a time frame implemented by OWRD and will likely not be resolved until well into 2013. We intend to pursue legal action at each subsequent permit and all steps of the way, as long as the facts allow. In the meantime we have continued to organize communities to pressure the decision makers in this process. Governor Kitzhaber has the power to steer the two state agencies that are complicit in Nestlé’s plans. Roy Elicker, is the Director of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). ODFW is the primary agency responsible for the project, having initiated the process by submitting water transfer permits. This also means ODFW can stop the project at any time by withdrawing the permits.

In just the last five months, Bark has gathered over 6,000 postcards from Oregonians opposing Nestle’s plans and sent them to Roy Elicker, asking him to withdraw ODFW’s permits and stop Nestlé. We are considering future options to influence this agency. Meanwhile, over 300 Oregonians rallied in June to demand that Governor Kitzhaber, as head of the state agencies cooperating with Nestlé, direct ODFW and OWRD to pull the plug on Nestlé. Terry Swier, Michigan water activist, traveled to Oregon to deliver inspirational words to the rally, and to testify in front of the Cascade Locks City Council with the wisdom gained from her years fighting Nestlé to protect her states’ groundwater. Then in August a group of runners took their protest to the trail by running the entire 50 mile rim of the Columbia River Gorge in a single day. Supporters gathered near the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks with a clear message written across a giant banner: Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge! We have been successful in keeping Nestlé at bay for several years, but the fight to keep our public water out of Nestlé’s hands is far from over. Stay tuned for upcoming events and actions you can take to stop Nestlé.