Nestlé began drilling test wells this week in Cascade Locks to see if an aquifer believed to be beneath Port of Cascade Locks property can be used in a water exchange Nestlé wants for a proposed water bottling plant.
On Thursday, the Cascade Locks Port Commission unanimously approved a two-year access agreement that allows Nestlé to drill up to three test wells on the port’s Industrial Park property located on the east end of town. Drilling started on Monday according to Dave Palais, natural resource manager for Nestlé Waters North America.
For years, Nestlé has been eying Cascade Locks as a site for a $50-million, 250,000-square-foot water bottling plant that would utilize water from the city’s supply as well as tap into the nearby Oxbow Springs. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife currently holds the water right to the springs, which it uses to rear fish at the Oxbow Hatchery on the east end of town. ODFW currently has an application with the Oregon Water Resources Department to exchange a small portion of Oxbow Springs water for an equal amount of Cascade Locks city well water, while still retaining control of its Oxbow Springs water right. ODFW would then utilize the city water to increase hatchery production during the low-flow period of July to December. In turn, Nestlé would then purchase the Oxbow Springs water from the city.
During the Thursday port meeting, Palais said that Nestlé is currently “trying to find the best option for the replacement or exchange water that would be provided back to the hatchery,” and if the test wells proved fruitful, they could serve as “one potential option for water supply at the Industrial Park and as also potential mitigation water for the water exchange.”
In a later interview, Palais explained that the city of Cascade Locks’ water supply is chlorinated and ODFW wanted chlorine-free water to use for fish-rearing purposes as part of the swap with Nestlé. In 2010, Nestlé drilled a test well approximately 85 feet deep and 8 inches in diameter near two city supply wells. According to Palais, the test well was able to generate around 10 gallons per minute of water that met ODFW’s standards.
The new test wells, which Palais said would initially be non-consumptive, aim to examine the viability of an aquifer Nestlé geologists hypothesize the existence of beneath Industrial Park.
“At this point, without further information about the geology beneath (Industrial Park), our geologists are just inferring the presence of an old channel based on visible geologic features in the area,” Palais said in an email. “That is, in part, what this exploration will help assess. It appears that a channel may have been eroded prior to the deposition of the Missoula Flood deposits that were laid down along the Columbia River during the last ice age, about 12,000 to 18,000 years ago.”
Nestlé also recently performed some “non-invasive geophysical exploratory work” on Oxbow Hatchery property at the satellite ponds located just east of Herman Creek. Palais stated during last week’s port meeting that despite the exploratory work, there were “no plans at the present time” to drill at the hatchery.
The wells will be monitored over the next year or two to assess both the quantity and the quality of water. Though Palais said the wells “would be owned by either the city or the port but would be held under the city’s existing water right,” Nestlé is paying for drilling costs, which Palais estimated between $15,000 and $20,000 per well. If the wells don’t produce water, they will be decommissioned per state law, according to Palais, which involves plugging the wells with impermeable grout to prevent groundwater contamination.
The drilling comes almost five years to the day after Nestlé made its first presentation to the Cascade Locks City Council back in 2008 about the water bottling facility, according to documents on the Nestlé website. Palais said Nestlé is “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.”
While Nestlé has moved ahead with the test well drilling, it is still embroiled with three protests from environmental groups who challenge the legitimacy of Nestlé’s water swap with ODFW. BARK and Food and Water Watch have filed with the Oregon Water Resources Department asking for the partial cancellation of Oxbow Hatchery’s water right. The case was scheduled to go before the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings in mid-October. Racquel Rancier, senior policy coordinator with the OWRD, estimated that a decision would be rendered three to six months after the October hearing.