Nestlé’s proposed water bottling plant in Cascade Locks may still be years away, but a recent state ruling helped Nestlé over one of multiple legal hurdles it must clear before the 250,000-square-foot plant can be built, stated Ben Mitchell, journalist for the Hood River News.

Office of Administrative Hearings issued a proposed order Dec. 10 that struck down a legal challenge filed by environmental groups asking for the partial cancellation of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s  (ODFW) water right to Little Herman Creek, which is used by the Oxbow Hatchery in Cascade Locks for fish-rearing purposes.

Three organizations are standing firm in their fight to prevent Nestlé or anyone from owning water here in the state of Oregon.

• Bark, officially founded in 1999 but started in 1993 when two friends, attorney Greg Dyson and musician John “Lenny” Rancher, began a call to action after witnessing vast clear-cuts and old-growth logging in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Bark has since trained hundreds of volunteers about the basics of forest policy and protected nearly 10,000 acres of forest from the chainsaw. They are the Barkers who stand before the public and use persistent outcry to call attention.

Alex P. Brown, executive director for BARK, said he was concerned “about the consequences of giving away what is currently public water to a private corporation,” as well as the environmental impacts of bottled water in general.

• Food & Water Watch began in the Fall 2005 when 12 members of the Energy and Environment Program left the non-profit organization to ensure that the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably-produced. They are a public interest organization that remains independent of corporate and government influence.

Julia DeGraw, Northwest organizer for Food and Water Watch said they “…are deeply disappointed in the proposed order that puts ODFW one step closer to allowing Nestlé to bottle public water.”  She said in a written statement that they will continue to ensure that the voices of tens of thousands of Oregonians who oppose Nestlé’s water bottling proposal are heard and will continue to call on ODFW Director Roy Elicker to stop the water exchange that would open up the doors to Nestlé’s first water bottling plant in the Northwest.

• Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition, is a diverse group of organizations, formed to protect the scenic Columbia River Gorge from a Nestlé water bottling facility.

Nestlé desires to bottle spring water in the Gorge – spring water used by the (ODFW) for a fish hatchery. If Nestlé succeeds in bottling this water, it would be the first time a state agency would give away publicly-owned water so Nestlé could profit from it. There are two state agencies involved in the governmental process necessary to free up this spring water to Nestlé and they both answer to Governor Kitzhaber. The coalition has succeeded in engaging over 30,000 Oregonians who have contacted the governor asking him to tell the ODFW to withdraw their application for a water exchange that would essentially give away our water so that Nestlé can bottle and sell it.

ODFW is currently in the process of setting up an exchange with the city of Cascade Locks that would allow a gallon-per-gallon trade of a portion of the Oxbow Springs water for a portion of Cascade Locks well water, which ODFW would use to enhance fish-rearing during low-flow periods. On Thursday,  December 26, the Cascade Locks Port Commission unanimously approved a two-year access agreement that allows Nestlé to drill three test wells on the port’s Industrial Park property located on the east end of town.

On December 20, exactly five years to the day since Nestlé made its first presentation to the Cascade Locks City Council about the water bottling facility, they began drilling test wells to see if an aquifer believed to be beneath Port of Cascade Locks property can be used in this water exchange.

Dave Palais, natural resource manager for Nestlé Waters North America, says he’s “still confident that the city has the (water) rights and capacity to meet its future growth needs with our project as part of the community.”

Voice your opinion on the Nestlé bottling plant and the water exchange permit now. Contact Governor Kitzhaber online at www.oregon.gov and click on CONTACT; call his citizen comment line at 503.378.4582 or send letters to Governor John Kitzhaber, 900 Court St. NE, Salem, OR 97301-4047. NT