Why We Must Keep Up the Fight to Protect Our Water!

By Rachel O’Keeffe, Food & Water Watch Northwest Organizing Intern


As Anna Mae Leonard and JoDe Goudy chanted a mesmeric prayer song, captivating the audience of environmentalists, reporters, bystanders, and tribal members alike, a veil of respect and resolve set in.

We were standing on the steps of Oregon’s State Capital, at a press conference hosted by Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge coalition groups to show solidarity with Anna Mae and the Columbia River Fishing Tribes. Anna Mae fasted for five days, without food or water, the week of September 19th, a week chosen to coincide with state legislators convening in Salem for the State Legislative Days. She fasted to bring attention to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s (ODFW) disregard of treaty rights and the region’s tribes’ wishes to protect sacred water from Nestlé. By moving forward with the water exchange process for Nestlé’s benefit, ODFW is also ignoring a majority of Hood River County voters and the law they voted into effect prohibiting all commercial water bottling. Governor Kate Brown, who has the power to force ODFW to pull out of any deal with Nestlé, has yet to take a stand or act on the issue. Her inaction leaves Oregon residents no choice but to question whose side she is on—it certainly seems preferential to Nestlé and against the residents and Tribes of the Gorge.

My introduction to Food & Water Watch has been a plunge-right-in approach and it has been equal parts invigorating and infuriating. Infuriating because I’ve come to learn that you can PASS A LAW that bans a corporation from doing something, and that corporation will still try to do that exact thing.

In May, 69% of Hood River County voters passed a ballot initiative that banned commercial water bottling, yet Nestlé is still moving forward with its plan. Last year, President Obama vetoed a bill authorizing the Keystone XL Pipeline, but the pipeline battle cropped up elsewhere. Now indigenous peoples are on the frontline in North Dakota protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline—the northern part of two pipelines that together follow a similar path to the Keystone XL Pipeline. Both Nestlé and Big Oil are moving forward in some way or another.

Corporations are not entitled to our public resources and we cannot afford to not stand up to them. The experience at the Oregon State Capitol has reinvigorated my desire to fight these corporations, because I’m surrounded by people who are fighting harder and sacrificing more than I ever could. Anna Mae Leonard gave up food and water for five days for this cause. JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, stated the Yakama Nation will sue the state of Oregon if Nestlé is authorized to commercially bottle water in Oxbow Springs. Last month peaceful protesting members of the Standing Rock Sioux were confronted with pepper spray and dogs while expressing their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline that would threaten their water and sacred sites. JoDe Goudy was among the thousands of indigenous peoples that gathered, who traveled great distances and camped in areas cutoff from water and sanitation resources in order to demonstrate their opposition to the pipeline.

On September 21st, Food & Water Watch, Local Water Alliance, Bark, Oregon AFSCME, and Oregonians stood in solidarity with Anna Mae, JoDe Goudy, and the Columbia River Fishing Tribes. Just as indigenous communities were not consulted or considered in the Dakota Access Pipeline project, the Columbia River Fishing Tribes were not adequately consulted on the state’s water exchange process for Nestlé’s profit. Governor Kate Brown even declined to meet with JoDe Goudy on the 21st or with Anna Mae Leonard at any point during her five day sacrifice.

Within my first month as the northwest organizing intern at Food & Water Watch, I’ve developed a greater amount of respect for those who take a stand. If Oregon residents and the Columbia River Fishing Tribes aren’t holding Governor Brown and ODFW accountable, if environmentalists and the Standing River Sioux aren’t protesting in North Dakota – if we don’t take a stand – then our increasingly scarce water resources will be comprised. We can’t let that happen.


Rachel O’Keeffe, northwest organizing intern for Food & Water Watch. 


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Stand in Solidarity Against Nestlé with Anna Mae Leonard and the Columbia River Fishing Tribes!


Nearly a year ago to the date Columbia River fishing tribes rallied with allies at the Oregon State capitol to tell Governor Brown to stop the Nestlé bottling proposal. It is time to remind her that we aren’t going away-she needs to respect the will of Hood River county voters and the Tribes by stopping the Nestle bottling proposal.

Last May, we celebrated our momentous victory when the Hood River County Water Protection Measure passed with the support of 69 percent of voters, banning commercial water bottling countywide. But the fight isn’t over yet.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is still moving forward with the water exchange application process intended to make state water resources available to Nestlé.

Next week, state legislators will meet in Salem for their Legislative Days from Wednesday the 21st to Friday. It’s the perfect opportunity to have our voices heard. Of course, we’re not the only ones upset about this issue.

Beginning Monday, Anna Mae Leonard will start fasting without food or water for five full days in response to the ODFW ignoring the wishes of the Columbia River fishing Tribes to protect increasingly scarce natural resources from Nestlé. Anna Mae will be resolute in her determination to bring light to this important message, remaining on the state capitol steps from sunrise to sunset, Monday to Friday.

We need to stand in solidarity with Anna Mae and the indigenous tribes! Here are the four ways you can get involved:

  • Come show your support for Anna Mae and her sacrifices for this important cause in Salem anytime next Monday to Friday from sunrise to sundown. Bring signs targeting Governor Brown asking her to tell ODFW to pull out of the water exchange process. And please show Anna Mae Leonard the respect she deserves.
  • The Keep Nestle Out of the Gorge coalition groups and the Local Water Alliance are showing solidarity by hosting a press conference on Wednesday at the capitol and will be joined by tribal fishing people as well as citizens from the Gorge and throughout Oregon. Come show your support for this powerful moment in this campaign against Nestlé at the press conference on Wednesday the 21st at 10:30am on the state capitol steps (900 Court St. Salem, OR). Signs will be provided, feel free to bring your own sign asking Gov. Brown to Say No to Nestlé.
  • If you can’t make it to Salem next week, you can still support the week of action by raising visibility on this urgent issue and spread the message through social media. Share photos posted by Food & Water Watch, the Local Water Alliance, and Bark share articles published about the week’s events, and tell your friends that a woman is FASTING FOR FIVE DAYS in response to this issue.
  • Call (503-378-4582) and/or email Governor Brown’s to let her know that you expect her to respect the will of Hood River County voters and to respect the Columbia River fishing Tribes by telling ODFW to stop its water exchange proposal for Nestle.

Please spread the word and tell your friends and family about this; the more people who know that the Hood County Water Protection Measure didn’t stop ODFW or Nestlé, the more people will pressure Governor Brown to use her power to stop them.


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Voters Rally In Hood River and Hold a “Free Water Giveaway” as Ballots Arrive

LWA Press Event Water Give Away

Local Water Alliance supporters showed up in force in Hood River to urge voters to vote YES on the Hood River Water Protection Measure (14-55). Ballots are in the mail supporters are encouraging voters to fill out their ballots and turn them in ASAP.

Hood River County, OR – Today, volunteers with the Local Water Alliance held a rally in downtown Hood River and gave away free glasses of water to people on the street and in passing cars to mark the arrival of ballots that will decide whether Hood River County becomes one of the first in the nation to prohibit industrial-scale bottled water operations.

Measure 14-55, the Hood River County Water Protection Measure, was proposed by a coalition of residents, farmers and Native Americans and heads to voters less than a year after Hood River County was under an emergency drought declaration.

Nestlé has proposed a water bottling plant in Cascade Locks which would use over 238 million gallons of publicly-owned water a year, and creating more than approximately 1.6 billion plastic water bottles each year. Measure 14-55 would legally block the Nestlé plant, which would be the largest such plant in Oregon, but backers of the measure say it’s about much more than just the Nestlé project.

“We have seen great support for Measure 14-55 all over the County, because people realize that we cannot afford to set the precedent that we’re willing to give away hundreds of millions of gallons of water a year when only last year we were under emergency drought declaration,” says volunteer Campaign Director Aurora del Val with the Local Water Alliance. “If we open the door to one bottled water plant then others are sure to follow and this does not make sense when farmers are getting their water supplies cut off because of drought.”

“We’re encouraging everyone in Hood River County to fill in their ballot and vote to protect the water supply we need to support our families, farms and fishery,” says organizer Molly Kissinger. “While bottled water corporations are trying to claim this measure would hurt Cascade Locks, some of our most active volunteers are people from Cascade Locks, working to keep their limited water supply from being handed over to one of the largest corporations in the world.”

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Over 100 Businesses and Farmers Announce Support for The Hood River County Water Protection Measure 14-55!


Hood River County, ORThe Local Water Alliance announced today that over 100 local businesses and farms have officially endorsed the Water Protection Measure 14-55, which would prohibit bottled water operations in Hood River County.

The long list of businesses, farms and farmers highlights the importance of protecting Hood River County’s water supply from water bottling efforts by Nestlé and other water bottlers. A Nestlé-backed political action committee calling itself “Coalition for a Strong Gorge Economy” recently filed with State Elections, listing a Salem political lobbyist as its main group contact.

Measure 14-55 backers say their impressive list of local farm and business endorsers highlights that a broad spectrum of voters understands that trucking out hundreds of millions of gallons of water a year would set a precedent that would put the County’s economy at risk.

“Our orchards and farms will not survive without a reliable water supply,” says ballot measure 14-55 Chief Petitioner Moria Reynolds of Casa Verde Farms. “Last year’s irrigation water restriction was a wake up call to local farmers that water is a valuable resource here in Oregon, and with future climate predictions, this is not the time to start selling our water for cheap.”

“Business after business that we talked to recognized that we cannot set the precedent of allowing Nestlé or any other industrial-scale water bottler into our County. This is not just about Nestlé because if we let Nestlé in, then many other water bottlers will soon follow their lead,” says Aurora del Val, who lives in Cascade Locks and is the Campaign Director for the Local Water Alliance.

Mike Kitts, who owns the construction company Mike Kitts Homes and also Mike’s Ice Cream in Hood River, directly addressed Nestlé’s claim that a bottled water plant would provide local jobs. “Bottled water plants are highly automated and only provide a small number of low-paying jobs while threatening our water supply that is critical for thousands of existing jobs.”

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The Battle Begins

It’s been a big couple of weeks. Last Friday a PAC was formed to run the opposition campaign against the Hood River Water Protection Measure. The PAC, the Coalition for a Strong Economy, has hired a consultant, Rebecca Tweed, along with one of the most expensive political consulting firms in the state of Oregon. We haven’t seen where the big money is coming from yet, but we’ll find out. I suspect the next round of reporting may show Nestlé and the International Bottled Water Association are bankrolling efforts to kill the popular ballot measure in Hood River County that would prohibit any commercial water bottling. You can call it a hunch.

On March 22, World Water Day, the Story of Stuff released their film Our Water, Our Future. Nestlé executives saw the promotion for the film and decided to release a video of their own in response on the same day. It seems that this multinational giant with deep pockets feels threatened by the power of a community fighting to protect their most precious resource: water. And Nestlé should be worried, because common sense and democracy are on our side.

The ballot measure campaign in Hood River County will only ramp up as May 17th approaches and Nestlé attempts to mislead voters into voting against their best interests. But the Local Water Alliance has the power of the people on their side. With countless volunteers calling voters and knocking on doors, no amount of spin that Nestlé can buy can compete.

For more information on the campaign and what you can do to support please visit the Local Water Alliance website and Facebook page.

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Work Continues to Protect Hood River County’s Water From Corporate Water Bottlers

Spring is upon us and we all feel the effects of a long soggy winter. All that liquid sunshine might bring relief to those of us who worry about drought conditions but recall that less than six months ago more than 2/3 of Oregon counties were declared as drought emergencies. Sure, the rain and snowpack helps but let me put a fine point on it – this is what Oregon drought conditions looked like a couple of months ago after all that rain.

Yet there are still over 400,000 Oregonians living in drought areas according to the United States Drought Monitor (data represented in image below). While 2016 snowpack levels are higher than average in some parts of the state they are still lower than average in others. You may be optimistic for good summer water conditions and might even believe that drought emergencies are a thing of the past. You might even think that Oregon has enough water now, right? No. It doesn’t.

Drought pic

Recall what Oregon Governor Kate Brown said just last year. “Water is the foundation for our economies, communities, ecosystems, and quality of life,” Brown said. “State government’s efforts to address climate change must include the reduced consumption and other conservation measures as water shortages become the new normal.

We know that water is the new gold and this is what has motivated groups like the Local Water Alliance and groups in the Keep Nestle Out of the Gorge Coalition to keep up the work of not only keeping Nestlé out of Oregon, but of permanently protecting Hood River County water from any commercial water bottling.

All this work has gotten us some great attention. In fact The Story of Stuff is making a film to help us tell the story of what Nestle wants to do with water that belongs to Oregonians. The film will be available to the pubic starting on World Water Day, March 22nd 2016. It will show you that Nestlé’s business practices are greed-based and environmentally negligent, and it will also show you what communities can do to stop multinational corporations from abusing common public resources, like water. Perhaps the thing that is most exciting is that this film is optimistic. Oregonians are not alone in the fight to save our water, we stand by fellow defenders of water in communities throughout the country as far away as Maine and as close as our California neighbors.

Winter also provided many opportunities to make things happen locally too. The enthusiasm from Hood River County residents has been overwhelming and we look forward to a successful ballot measure passing in May of this year. The May ballot measure to Protect Hood River County’s Water will not only Stop Nestlé’s bottling proposal in its tracks it will also prohibit any commercial water bottling in Hood River County. Between then and now, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done as the Local Water Alliance continues to lead that effort. With the passage of that measure, Hood River will have made history and set a model to be used by other communities to help protect their resources too. But what’s next for Oregon, you ask?

Groups involved in the Keep Nestlé out of the Gorge Coalition are communicating with both Governor Brown’s staff and the head of her Water Resources Department to ensure that the state develop sensible policies on how public water resources should be managed moving forward. After the governor’s request to the Water Resources Department to develop a policy to better handle private companies or individuals requests to access state held water rights; we will work hard to make sure the public’s interest trumps private corporate greed in the development of that policy.

In the mean time what you can do to continue to support these efforts ranges from contacting the Water Resources Department and Governor Kate Brown’s office encouraging them to make state water resources off limits to corporate water bottling. If you want to get further involved in the ballot measure campaign you can make a donation to the Local Water Alliance. The Local Water Alliance and citizens of Hood River County are taking on one of the wealthiest most powerful multinational corporations in the world; they will need financial support to win. If you are interested in doing more than just writing a check you can also sign up to host a house party. The campaign will help you set it up and will send someone to speak at your event.

That’s all for now! Til next time—

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Campaign Submits Triple the Signatures Needed to Qualify Hood River County Ballot Measure Targeting Nestlé Project & Commercial Water Bottling

Petition delivery hallway

Pamela Larsen, one of the three chief petitions carried the box of some 1,600 petition signatures to the County Elections office today to qualify the Hood River Water Protection Measure for the ballot in 2016. Local Water Alliance (LWA) Director Aurora del Val (middle) and campaign organizer Molly Kissinger (left) along with a dozen Hood River County citizens participated in today’s historic delivery. The LWA is running this precedent setting ballot initiative campaign.

The precedent-setting citizen ballot measure that would block Nestlé’s proposed water bottling plant in the Columbia River Gorge and prohibit commercial water bottling in Hood River County took a major step forward today as campaign backers turned in over three times the 497 signatures needed to qualify the measure.

Local Water Alliance (LWA), which is spearheading the campaign, collected more than 1,600 signatures in just over a month, making it virtually certain that the county will qualify the Hood River County Water Protection Measure to go to county voters. Campaign backers argue that it does not make sense to send more than 200 million gallons of water each year out of a county that has been in a serious drought.

“It has been fantastic to see all the support for this measure from people across the political spectrum,” says Aurora del Val, Campaign Director for the Local Water Alliance, “We considered gathering even more signatures, but we think voters want to make their opinions known as soon as possible.”

“This project would set a dangerous precedent that Hood River County is a county willing to give away the future of our water security,” adds del Val who lives in Cascade Locks. “That precedent puts at risk our entire economy, which heavily relies on water, and it is not worth the small number of jobs Nestlé could create at a highly automated bottling plant.”

Hood River business owner Michael Barthmus agrees. “It was an easy petition to get people to sign because most people understand that water is a resource and basic human need, and not a commodity to be exploited. Shipping water outside of our county seems like poor stewardship, especially during a time of shortage and droughts. Our families, farms and the fish in our rivers should be our top priority.”

Julia DeGraw, Northwest organizer for Food & Water Watch says the citizen ballot measure is being watched around the country. “What’s happening in Hood River County, Oregon, is being watched closely by communities we work with across the country that are fighting to protect their water supplies from becoming commodities for profit-driven corporations like Nestlé. It’s really impressive to see the public energy behind this precedent-setting campaign.”

Want to support the campaign? Make a donation and get a perk from their Indiegogo fundraiser. 

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