By Conner Bulkeley-Crane
CatlinSpeak (Portland, Oregon)
Nestle is currently working on a plan to privatize water in Oregon, and the ecological impact could be disastrous.
The company is lobbying to construct a water bottling facility in Cascade Locks, Ore.. Given the close proximity to the Columbia River Gorge, if Nestle’s plan succeeds, they would own water from the Mt. Hood National Forest region and be able to sell it at a high price.
Water for Nestle’s facility would be taken from Oxbow Springs, and Cascade Locks would use water from their wells to replace it. Nestle plans to pump upwards of 160 million gallons of water each year to be bottled in wasteful plastic and sold at a price increase from what they are paying the city of 1500 percent.
Cascade Locks’ economy has been struggling ever since the recession, and proponents of Nestle’s plan argue that the presence of a big corporation’s would provide a much needed boost to the local economy. Nestle promises that the pumping plant would generate many jobs, however they are only offering fifty jobs. Furthermore, Nestle, refuses to commit any of these jobs to local residents. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the plan would have the economic effects that the people of Cascade Locks hope for.
Meredith Lee, the author of a petition against the Nestle proposal claims the corporate giant’s impact would harm tourist attraction, a pillar of the local economy:
“During tourist season residents of Cascade Locks could see a water truck coming through every eight minutes,” says Lee, “This, in addition to construction required for the plant will negatively impact the tourist economy for the gorge.”
Additionally, many Oregonians are wary of losing control of such a precious resource to Nestle. Given global warming and the possibility of another drought in the future, Oregon would be relinquishing control of one of the most fertile water sites in the state.
These suspicions are not ill founded given that Nestle has had a bottling operation in a creek in the San Bernardino Mountains in California. Despite the brutal drought that has dragged the entire state to its knees, Nestle has not slowed its pumping.
Not only has Nestle continued pumping, there is concern among many Californians that they are doing it illegally. Environmental groups sued the U.S. Forest Service, claiming that Nestle Waters to draw water from a creek in the San Bernardino Mountains under a permit that expired more than 25 years ago and that the Forest Service has not taken enough action.
“We Californians have dramatically reduced our water use over the past year in the face of an historic drought, but Nestle has refused to step up and do its part,” posits Michael O’Heaney, executive director of the Story of Stuff Project and a plaintiff in the suit. “Until the impact of Nestle’s operation is properly reviewed, the Forest Service must turn off the spigot.”
Due to climate change, Oregon is has been in a drought for some time. Hood River County recently joined two more counties on Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s drought emergency list. This is massively dangerous because 23 counties and nearly 85 percent of its total land mass are in drought. Giving the keys to Nestle would be disastrous given our current state of water. Gov. Brown said to Hood River News
“The extreme drought conditions we are experiencing reflect a new reality in Oregon,” Brown said in her declaration. “In an already difficult fire season, steps such as these are key to taking a proactive approach to the continuing challenges of climate change.”
If Oregon’s drought gets worse, Nestle would continue sucking the same amount of water, worsening the drought conditions.
Over time, the Columbia River has greatly benefited the Hood River’s organisms and broad ecosystems. However, as humans have taken from the river, the number of aquatic species listed under the Endangered Species Act continues to rise. Some are worried that Nestle’s plant would further endanger Oregon’s salmon populations which are already suffering because of increasing water temperatures.
Oregon’s Native-American population has repeatedly posited their concerns over the well being of the salmon. In the summer of 2015, Anna Mae Leonard held a five-day hunger strike down the street from City Hall in Cascade Locks, Oregon. During her strike, she allowed herself merely a ceremonial sip of water in the morning and one at night, taken from the spring she was fighting to save. She said to the Oregonian: “I want them to look at me suffer and think about how the fish will suffer without that cold spring water.”
Many Native American’s believe that allowing Nestle to pump water would violate a treaty between the Warm Springs and Grand Ronde tribes and the federal government. The treaty was signed in 1855, and granted Native Americans “…the exclusive right of taking fish… at all other usual and accustomed stations in common with citizens of the United States.” In the years that followed, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that this included Indian water rights. Through pumping critically necessary spring water, Nestlé would infringe on the right granted to the Native Americans.
Furthermore, drought has been proven to severely affect Oregon’s Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine populations. These two trees are essential cogs of Oregon’s ecosystem, and if their population begins to dwindle, all of Oregon’s wildlife will be affected.
Nestle has yet to succeed in securing their pumping facility, and thus the following months and years will determine if Nestle will strongarm various committees gain control of Oregon water.
Photo Credit: Unsplash