In 2008, Nestle began a campaign to gain essential control over the water at Oxbow Springs near the town of Cascade Locks, a small village in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. It continues in its dogged pursuit in spite of public protests and lawsuits brought against it by, among others, Food & Water Watch, which has been fighting Nestle throughout the country over the issue of their water grabs in various small communities. The fight has survived through two governorships, those of Ted Kulongoski and John Kitzhauber, both of whom supported Nestle, and the current governor, Kate Brown, who has tacitly supported the company by remaining silent on the issue. Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) had decided that Nestle could trade for its legal right to Oxbow Springs, which was upheld by a judge. The trade was that Nestle would make tons of money selling bottled water from the Springs and in return provide 50 $10 an hour jobs to the struggling community whose current rate of unemployment is at 19%. Under the terms of this “trade” Nestle would get a discount on the water they buy, paying less for it than local residents. I’ve written about this issue twice before, once in 2013 and then earlier this year, but now two new developments have taken place that may help tip the scales against Nestle. Four Indian tribes, the Warm Springs, the Klickitats, Yakama and Umatilla, have added their voice to keeping Nestle out of the Gorge, and local residents involved in the Local Water Alliance organization have successfully filed a citizen ballot measure that would ban commercial water operations in the county.
On September 17, tribal members protested the deal in Oregon’s capital, Salem, which followed a letter from the Warm Springs Tribal Council that had been sent to Governor Brown. The letter contested the notion of Nestle bottling Columbia Gorge water as well as the process the ODFW had undertaken. The Tribe stated that they had not been adequately involved. And in August, a 57 year old woman, Anna Mae Leonard, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, held a five day hunger strike in the town of Cascade Locks to draw attention to the issue at it relates specifically to Native Americans. Leonard has stated that the deal between the state and the town would violate the Treaty of 1855 between the U.S. and the Four Columbia River Tribes. “The tribes are supposed to have Senior Water Rights,” says Skeweacuks, a Warm Springs Tribal member. Wilber Slockish, a Klickitat Chief, added, “The People, the salmon and our natural food supply – we are trying to survive your economic policies. We are tired of being invisible people.” The tribes of the Gorge depend on salmon for their incomes, and sell the salmon they catch in the town of Cascade Locks. All members of a family will work seven days a week from March until October to make enough to live on for the rest of the year. They are dependent on the increasingly precarious salmon runs and are adding their voice to the protest against a multinational company’s grab for an essential part of their means of survival.
And the residents of Cascade Locks, in a classic move representative of David and Goliath, have successfully filed the Hood River Water Protection Measure to ban “the export of water for water bottling purposes,” the first such measure of its kind. “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 on the backs of trucks seems particularly irresponsible,” says Ed del Val, one of the measure’s chief petitioners and president of the newly formed Local Water Alliance. Pamela Larsen, another petitioner, says that “the recent drought has really highlighted that communities that don’t have control of their water supply won’t have control of their future. We’re sure that Nestle will fight our measure tooth and nail, but we think Hood River County voters are going to agree that our water is our future and we need to protect it.” They are being supported by Food & Water Watch, which is partnering with the Local Water Alliance. Food & Water Watch is in the process of hiring a community organizer who will work with the community on education and outreach efforts and will help create campaign materials.
It would save a lot of money and effort if Kate Brown simply instructed the ODFW to stop negotiations with Nestle. Since this fight against Nestle started, the tribes, local residents and representatives of statewide environmental groups have sent close to 300,000 petitions to Governor Brown’s office; SumOfUs, a local organization, has itself delivered, so far, 252,357 petitions. It’s time for this fight to end and keep Nestle out of our vulnerable communities.
Recipe of the Week
This is a pretty easy meal to make and will provide leftovers.
Ground Lamb and Rice
1.25 lbs. of ground lamb, locally sourced
1 cup basmati rice
1 large onion, chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbls. ground coriander
1 tbls. ground cumin
1 cup organic whole tomatoes, pureed
sea salt and black pepper to taste
3 cups homemade chicken stock
3 tbls. olive oil
Heat oil in a large, cast iron frying pan. Add onions and saute briefly. Add garlic and lamb and cook until lamb is no longer pink. At this point, you should remove some of the fat from the pan. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the spices and stock and bring to a boil. After rinsing the rice, add it to the pot, bring back to a boil, cover and turn the heat down to its lowest setting. Cook for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave for 30 minutes before removing the lid. Add salt and pepper at this point. Serve with hot sauce, dollops of yogurt and pita.