The Oregon Water Resources Board recently approved a transfer application which is the preliminary step to a water rights exchange that would advance Nestlés' proposal to bottle water from Oxbow Springs in Cascade Locks.
In response, a coalition of environmental groups concerned with protecting public access to water joined the state and local employee union, Oregon AFSCME, to raise challenges to the OWRB permits.
The water exchange would involve a swap of existing ODFW Oxbow Springs rights and well water rights now owned by the City of Cascade Locks.
Cascade Locks Mayor Lance Masters, citing opponents' criticism, objected to "special interest groups, some from as far away as Washington, D.C., trying to influence what happens in our little town."
Masters went on to say, "In their attempt to stop Nestlé, they could be dealing a death blow to a town that's really struggling for survival. The main thing is we need jobs in Cascade Locks and this is a way to get them," said Masters.
Since the ODWR authorization of permits, other Oregon legislators are joining opponents of the project in forwarding an appeal to Gov. John Kitzhaber.
"It allows a private multinational corporation to use a public resource for the economically and environmentally unsustainable practice of bottled water," said Oregon State Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, chairwoman of the Senate's natural resources and environment committee.
Dingfelder, along with nearly a dozen other legislators, plans to ask Kitzhaber to discourage the swap by the ODFW.
Estimates of the amount of water planned for bottling and shipping by truck carriers from the area equate to approximately 167 million gallons per year.
"Over 40 percent of Oregonians get their drinking water from Mt. Hood National Forest (the source of Oxbow Springs waters)," said Lori Ann Burd, Restore Mt. Hood campaign manager.
"This water belongs to all of us and is too precious to sell off to a multinational corporation with a track record for leaving communities in worse economic and environmental shape than it found them," said Burd.
According to the Nov. 2, 2011, Cascade Locks community meeting notes on the Nestlé website, truck traffic and air pollution were topics of concern for residents in attendance at the meeting.
Clarifying average daily traffic data discussed during the presentation, Dave Palais, natural resource manager for Nestlé Waters, noted that peak truck traffic on Interstate 84 would be up by 100-105 trucks (200-210 truck trips) during the summer months.
"The ultimate solution to keeping Nestlé out of the Gorge lies with Gov. Kitzhaber," said Julia DeGraw, Northwest organizer for the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Food and Water Watch, who has joined the coalition opposing the exchange.
The Spokane-based Spokesman Review reports that Nestlé bottling proposals have recently been turned down by two other towns, one in Washington and one in Northern California.
CORRECTION: In the March 31 print edition of the News, an article on Nestlé's proposal to open a water bottling plant indicated that the Oregon Water Resources Board "authorized permits for a water rights exchange that would enable Nestlé to bottle water from Oxbow Springs in Cascade Locks."
The use of the words "permits" and "enable" may have been misleading. The OWRB in fact issued a "preliminary determination approving the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's transfer application."
The ODFW made two separate transfer applications to OWRB, proposing additional points of diversion within their existing rights.
This is the preliminary step that must occur prior to another step requesting an exchange of water rights with the City of Cascade Locks. If no protests are received by the OWRB, the water exchange application may then be adjudicated.
According to Julia DeGraw, Northwest Organizer for Food and Water Watch, a formal protest against the approved transfer application has been filed.