Since 2008 Nestle has waged a battle in Cascade Locks, Oregon for control over the rights to the water of Oxbow Springs. As I had reported first in 2013 and then in February of 2015 and September of the same year, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, three governors and most of the Cascade Locks City Council members have either full on supported selling off the water to Nestle or ignored their machinations altogether. It was only because of the actions of various political and environmental groups (Food and Water Watch, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Sierra Club, et. al) that the battle went on as long as it did.
Also last year, four Indian tribes added their names to Keeping Nestle Out of the Gorge by claiming treaty rights over Oxbow Springs and issuing concerns about the health of future salmon populations. And with the help of Food and Water Watch, local citizens crafted a citizen ballot measure that would ban commercial water operations in the county. That measure appeared on the May 17th ballot and was overwhelmingly passed with approximately 70% of the vote. Nestle had promised 50 jobs at $10 an hour (with no benefits) as well as other vague promises of financial salvation, which has been the traditional lure used by the company to capture the water resources of small towns nationwide. Nestle spent $105,000 fighting the measure and issued a statement decrying the election results. Although Nestle claims that “we respect the democratic process,” Food and Water Watch fully expects Nestle to sue over the issue.
But now a precedent has been set. “This is absolutely the first time a county has passed this kind of ballot measure prohibiting commercial water bottles,” said Julia DeGraw, Northwest organizer for Food and Water Watch. She goes on to say that “it really defines what is possible for communities who are serious about protecting their water.” The residents of Hood River County stopped Nestle from opening a $50 million bottling plant that would have captured 100 million gallons a year from Oxbow Springs at very little cost. In fact, under the deal, residents would have paid more for their water than Nestle. “This is really a resounding victory for everyone who cares about protecting not only our water supply, but water supplies around the world,” said Aurora del Val with Local Water Alliance, which filed the ballot measure petition.
However, while the measure passed overwhelmingly in all other of Hood River County’s precincts, it failed in Cascade Locks (precinct 12) with 58% of the votes going against Measure 14-55. None of the news reports mentioned this salient piece of information. Apparently, Nestle was able to convince the town’s city council and residents with bribes of trips to California, picnics and splashy campaign literature that a few low-end jobs with no benefits and 200 trucks a day rambling on their roads was a good thing. But with unemployment at 19% it was perhaps an act of desperation. Again, this is what Nestle counts on. They target economically depressed areas “take water for cheap, bottle and sell it – for billions of dollars in profit – and then dump the environmental and other costs onto society.” Nestle has no affinity for the communities it targets. It has disregarded the drought in California, has no provisions for infrastructure repair and completely ignores the environmental perils of plastic contamination.
While the residents of Cascade Locks may bemoan the passage of Measure 14-55, other residents in the same county were able to dispassionately calculate the future damages resulting from a loss of control of their water supply. And all so one can purchase a cheap bottle of water and then toss the plastic into a landfill.