PORTLAND – Bottled water foes have asked Gov. John Kitzhaber to stop a deal that would allow Nestle to build a bottling plant at Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge, 45 miles east of Portland.
Nestle wants to bottle spring water, some of which is now used at a state salmon hatchery.
Environmental activists are asking the governor to tell the Fish and Wildlife Department not to swap its water rights with the city. The swap would give the hatchery access to city well water and the bottler access to the spring water.
The $50 million plant would bring about 50 jobs, The Oregonian reported. “The ultimate solution to keeping Nestle out of the gorge lies with Gov. Kitzhaber,” said Julia DeGraw, Northwest organizer for the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, Food & Water Watch.
It would be Nestle’s first plant in the region after rejections from towns in Washington and Northern California. Smaller-scale water bottling plants are already established in the gorge, including Water from the Hood in Hood River and H2Oregon in The Dalles.
The plant would use 225 gallons per minute of the spring water. The state says the spring flows with at least 600 gallons a minute.
City officials whose interest was piqued by the prospects of jobs, a doubled property-tax base and filling 25 acres of underused industrial land along the Columbia River say the project should get approval. Kitzhaber hasn’t taken a position yet.
Lance Masters, Cascade Locks’ mayor, criticized the involvement of “special interest groups, some from as far away as Washington, D.C., trying to influence what happens in our little town.”
“In their attempt to stop Nestle, they could be dealing a death blow to a town that’s really struggling for survival,” Masters said.
State Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, said she and about a dozen other legislators will ask Kitzhaber to tell the Fish and Wildlife Department not to swap water rights with the city.
“It allows a private multinational corporation to use a public resource for the economically and environmentally unsustainable practice of bottled water,” said Dingfelder, chairwoman of the Senate’s natural resources and environment committee.
Under state law, she said, there’s no requirement for a thorough review of the plant’s potential environmental consequences, from water drawdowns to increased truck traffic.
Opponents say Nestle’s checkered history in other communities – and a likely 50-year operating agreement with Cascade Locks – indicate the city and the hatchery would have little recourse if water runs short.