Since our last post there’s been a lot of buzz around the controversial issue of Nestlé bottling our public water resources in the Columbia River Gorge. And there have been big changes. First, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), has a new director, Curt Melcher. And right after he was hired, Melcher got a new boss – former Secretary of State, Kate Brown, who became Governor when John Kitzhaber resigned last month. With ODFW considering a questionable water deal that could permanently affect water supply in Gorge communities, let’s just say there’s a lot to talk about.
The media is paying attention, too, with stories in the Oregonian on January 23rd, and March 6th, an opinion editorial on February 14, a segment on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud, and a radio segment on KBOO. People are on alert because ODFW could proceed with a water rights transfer that would throw out the public interest review process.
Since 2008 ODFW has been considering a water exchange application with the city of Cascade Locks to allow Nestlé to bottle water. An exchange – while not desirable – at least requires the Water Resources Department to do a formal public interest review. This means the agency must look at the broader effects of the proposal to determine if a Nestlé water bottling plant is the best and highest use of Oregon’s pubic water resource. During the comment period after the proposal was filed, thousands of Oregonians filed public comments with the Water Resources Department opposing the exchange.
Meanwhile, in late 2014, Nestlé approached ODFW about considering another way to give Nestlé access to this public water: a water rights transfer. In contrast to the water exchange proposal, a water rights transfer does not require a formal public interest review by the Water Resources Department (WRD). A transfer application does require a public comment period, but comments carry less weight in this process because WRD is not required to consider any comments that raise concerns about how the proposal will impact the public interest. Essentially, by pushing ODFW to do a water rights transfer, proponents of a Nestle bottling plant get around the public interest review red tape (last time we checked, this was called democracy) associated with the exchange proposal on file.
Needless to say the idea that ODFW officials are even considering this water rights transfer proposal is offensive to the tens of thousands of Oregonians who oppose a Nestlé bottling plant in the Gorge, including those who submitted comments to the initial water exchange proposal; if ODFW proceeds with a transfer, the exchange application will be moot, along with the thousands of comments submitted for public review.
Wonky corporate and bureaucratic maneuverings aside – water transfer or water exchange – opening the door to a multinational corporation with a nasty track record is a bad deal for Oregon. Our state agencies are tasked with protecting the people and resources of Oregon; a clean and accessible water supply is the most basic essential resource of all. Therefore, ODFW should reject the deal altogether. If it must consider creating a mechanism whereby Nestlé can bottle our water for profit, certainly that proposal deserves the most rigorous scrutiny possible, not a cursory look through the narrowest scope.
The most important thing you can do to protect our water is contact Governor Brown and ask her to direct ODFW to stop reject the water transfer proposal and to reject the water exchange as well – the water in the Columbia River Gorge is there to benefit Oregonians, not to hand over to an multinational corporation like Nestlé to make profits. The most recent Oregonian article made clear that ODFW leadership needs to hear from the Governor’s office on this issue. We need to make sure that Governor Brown knows that Oregonians don’t want to set the dangerous precedent of using state agencies to welcome Nestlé into the state.
Contact Governor Brown to encourage her to put a stop to the Nestlé water bottling proposal in the Gorge:
Written Comments: http://www.oregon.gov/gov/Pages/share-your-opinion.aspx.