Members of a local advocacy group have filed a voter petition to block large-scale commercial water bottling operations in Hood River County, namely Nestlé.
The measure, introduced by Local Water Alliance and filed at the county elections office Monday, would prohibit any business from producing 1,000 or more gallons of bottled water per day for commercial sale.
For years, Nestlé Waters North America has attempted to site a bottling plant in Cascade Locks, drawing the ire of environmental advocacy groups and the support of city officials, who argue for the potential economic benefits of new jobs and tax revenue.
The petition by Local Water Alliance to bar commercial water bottling needs 497 valid signatures from Hood River County residents to be considered on the May 17, 2016, primary election ballot — but first, it has to be approved by legal counsel or appealed in circuitcourt.
The county rejected the original proposal because it included two legal areas — commercial production and transportation of bottled water, according to Kim Kean, chief deputy director of the county records department and elections supervisor.
“It was determined by our county counsel that it contained two subject matters and was therefore rejected,” said Kean.
In response, petitioners filed with circuit court to rule against the county’s decision, Kean said.
Local Water Alliance have since filed two bifurcated measures that separate production and transportation as components of the issue. Kean indicated both petitions would need a full amount of signatures.
“Each has to get 497 valid signatures. I typically tell people to collect at least 20 percent more just to give cushion for bad signatures, but that’s up to the petitioners,” said Kean.
Both measures are under review by county attorneys.
“They said it was doing too much,” said Aurora del Val of Local Water Alliance, discussing the county’s rejection of the group’s original proposal.
The group, based in Cascade Locks and Hood River, has advocated against Nestlé and future water bottling projects in the Gorge, citing privatization of a public resource and environmental impacts during a record drought.
“When your county is facing record drought conditions, the idea of sending millions of gallons of water a year out of the county in mountains of plastic piled on the back of trucks seems particularly irresponsible,” said Ed del Val, president of Local Water Alliance.
The City of Cascade Locks and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife filed joint cross water rights transfer applications to the Oregon Water Resources Department in April. Both are still under review, according to OWRD’s website.
If approved, the City would exchange a portion of its municipal ground water right for an equal portion of ODFW’s water right from nearby Oxbow Springs (which currently feeds from Herman Creek into ODFW’s fish hatchery), and then sell spring water to Nestlé for bottling at a 250,000-square-foot plant, which is slated for the Port of Cascade Locks business park.
Nestlé plans to ultimately supply two brands through the Cascade Locks project — first, its Arrowhead brand with spring water and then Pure Life with ground water, according to city staff reports. The nearest Nestlé bottling facility sits in Sacramento.
“We are currently reviewing the petition and its implications on our proposed project in Cascade Locks,” said Dave Palais, natural resource manager for Nestlé Waters North America, in a written statement sent by a spokesperson.
“From our perspective, water — whether tap, filtered, or in a bottle — is a smart thing to drink. Bottled water bans remove one of the most healthful beverage choices,” said Palais.
Palais argued if bottled water wasn’t available, more consumers would switch to soda or other unhealthy sugary drinks “which use more water, more packaging and more ingredients.”
The petition, “Hood River County Water Protection Measure,” bears the signatures of Ed del Val of Cascade Locks, as well as Moria Reynolds and Pamela Larsen of Hood River. Del Val teaches at Mt. Hood Community College and helms Local Water Alliance along with his wife, Aurora. Reynolds is a local farmer and Larsen is a mother of two.
Kean said, if approved, the petition would go to District Attorney John Sewell, who would prepare a ballot title.
According to the document, “bottled water” means all water that is labeled or marketed for sale as “water” in containers, but not limited to, plastic and glass bottles.
“The term does not include any other product made from or with water but which is not labeled or marketed as ‘water,’” the petition says.
“This is a measure that sets a precedent that we’re not going to sell water … to a corporation,” said Aurora del Val.
Del Val said the measure isn’t aimed at Water from the Hood, the only commercial water bottling operation in Hood River County.