At the last Oregon Water Resources Commission on Friday, January 27, the agenda was full of administrative issues including a rule change regarding the way people who submit public comments will be notified that their comment has been received. Food & Water Watch and its coalition partners were at the meeting to ensure that everyone who commented on the Department of Water Resources water transfer applications pertaining to the Nestle water bottling proposal be properly notified of the Water Resources Department’s decision on those transfer applications. In the end we were assured that those who submitted comments would be appropriately notified.
What wasn’t in the agenda was the Nestle water bottling issue, yet, Dave Palais, Nestlé’s Natural Resources Manager, broached the subject asking for the Water Resources Commission’s approval of a water exchange that would lead to a proposed Nestlé water bottling plant in the Gorge. Palais went on record urging the commission to support the water exchange, while also highlighting that the Cascade Locks bottling plant would be good for the entire state of Oregon. This unexpected pronouncement by a representative of Nestle at a public meeting caused some confusion among the Water Resources Commission members since Palais’ testimony was out of context and caught the commission off guard.
While the connection between the contentious water exchange applications and Nestlé wanting to bottle Columbia Gorge water has been obvious and indisputable to most of us since day one, Palais testimony was the first time Nestlé has gone on record with the Water Resources Commission to promote its proposed water bottling project. Up until this point, the Water Resources Department, which is headed by the Water Resources Commission, claimed that the exchange has nothing to do with Nestlé or any water-bottling proposal because Nestlé isn’t listed on the application. The department has even gone so far as to state it cannot assess the impacts of the water bottling facility to local water quantity or quality because, in its estimation, the exchange has nothing to do with Nestlé. Clearly, after Palais’ testimony, that will be a hard claim for the department to stand by.
Still, regardless of any blunders Nestlé makes along the way, it is crucial that we continue to keep the pressure on Governor Kitzhaber. At the end of the day, he and only he, can direct the state agencies to deny this water exchange that is not the best use of Oregon’s public water resources. Kitzhaber should listen to the tens of thousands of Oregonians who don’t want Nestlé bottling our water in the Gorge.
Decision time is imminent. After asking thousands of public commenters if they would like to opt into electronic notification, the Water Resources Department will issue its preliminary determination on the two transfer applications pertaining to this project. The governor needs to hear from all of us before the department approves any applications that help Nestlé get closer to bottling our water. It’s not too late to make a call: 503-378-4582 or send in your own personalized letter to Governor Kitzhaber!