Hood River County voters made history in the May 17 election. In a landslide victory, the Hood River County Water Protection Measure passed with 69 percent of voters supporting a ban on industrial-scale water bottling countywide. At issue was Nestlé’s plan to bottle and sell more than 236 million gallons of publicly owned water each year. Gov. Kate Brown now has a clear mandate to tell Nestlé once and for all the state is not interested in handing over public water from Oxbow Springs.
For eight years, Oregonians have urged the state not to trade away public water for Nestlé to sell at a profit. Three different governors turned a blind eye to the issue, either deferring to state agencies or claiming it was a local decision not to be interfered with by the state.
It took last year’s drought, public opposition from the Warm Springs and Umatilla Tribes, and many other Cascade Locks residents to galvanize a bipartisan coalition that overwhelming won this year’s primary election. The win came despite the fact Nestlé broke local campaign spending records and hid their contributions until just days before the election. Republicans, Independents and Democrats and more than 100 local businesses and farms agreed: It makes no sense to compete with a multinational water bottling company for increasingly scarce water resources in a county that was, until recently, under formal drought declaration.
The Governor deserves credit for reversing the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW’s) attempt to transfer state water rights from Oxbow Springs for Nestlé’s benefit without a public-interest test. Now, she should save the public from years more of a grueling fight over whether the Columbia River Gorge should become home to potentially the largest water bottling plant in Oregon. Governor Brown should immediately advise the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to pull out of the water exchange application that could open the door to Nestlé.
We hope Gov. Brown respects the will of voters, especially now that ODFW’s director, Curt Melcher, announced at the June 3 Environmental Justice Task Force meeting in Hood River that he intends to go forward with the water exchange application, as though this exchange has nothing to do with the Nestlé bottling proposal or the Hood River County vote. Such action shows blatant disregard for the voters and the Hood River Water Protection Measure that is now law.
It is deeply disappointing to see state agencies continue to pursue this application, which would make water from a state-held water right available to Nestlé. We urge Governor Brown to stay on the right track and recommend that ODFW retract any water transfer applications that will facilitate any commercial water bottling in Hood River County. We also hope that the Hood River County Commissioners stand with voters and, if necessary, help the Local Water Alliance defend this historic victory.
It is time to close the door on Nestlé and work together to create a truly stable local economy in Cascade Locks and throughout the Gorge.