Broad Coalition Delivers Thousands of Public Comments on Controversial Proposal to Open the Gorge to Nestlé

On Thursday, May 14th, weeks after Governor Kate Brown announced droughts in seven counties, Oregon elected officials, labor representatives, youth and environmental advocates on Thursday delivered of thousands of public comments at the State Capitol from Oregonians urging the Oregon Water Resources Department and Governor Kate Brown to reject a City of Cascade Locks water swap proposal with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife in light of concerns that such a deal will open the door for Nestlé to bottle public water in the Gorge.

“Seven Oregon counties face drought emergencies, climate change is bearing down on us and wealthy investors are looking to divert water from the Northwest to California,” said a staffer in a state provided on behalf of Oregon Representative Ann Lininger. “This is not the time to help a private multinational corporation extract and sell our precious clean water. This is the time to develop a plan for how Oregon will meet the water needs of our people, fish, and environment in a future shaped by climate change.”

The Oregon Water Resources Department is set to consider two water transfer applications filed by the City of Cascade Locks and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) to facilitate a water rights swap – making ODFW spring water currently used for a hatchery available for the City to sell to Nestlé for water bottling. Residents of Cascade Locks who attended the public comment delivery, including City Councilor Deanna Busdieker, are concerned that Nestlé is not the right fit for their city.

“Nestlé’s main concern is about its profit margin whereas for our town, it’s about how we want our community to grow,” said Councilor Busdieker. “Residents want local, sustainable, and socially responsible long-term economic development. The acceptability of selling public resources for private profit belongs in the past, and the only way to move forward is to discover new industries to develop. Nestlé does not seem like a good fit or an appropriate industry for us. We can do better.”

A public comment period on the proposal closed last Thursday, May 14. Environmental, youth and labor groups argued that the impacts of a water swap would go beyond Cascade Locks.

“The supposed job merits of Nestlé’s water bottling proposal are neither based on facts, nor stand up to scrutiny,” said Jeff Klatke, President of Oregon AFSCME, which represents workers at over 170 governmental and non-governmental jurisdictions.  “Thirty of our jurisdictions include a public water department, so we know something about good stewardship of water resources. The state must not be allowed to circumvent the public interest review of a water privatization permit of this magnitude. Oregon AFSCME strongly encourages Governor Brown and the State to consider the public’s comments carefully weigh the public resource impacts inherent in this permitting decision.”

The public comment delivery was accompanied by water-themed origami works by the youth-led H2Origami Project, which combines natural materials with the ancient art form to create works that bring attention to issues that affect the health of our waterways.

“The importance of protecting water as a basic human right from privatization and pollution extends far beyond our needs today, and to the needs of many generations of living beings to come,” said by Jacob von Borth of H2Origami Project. “Considering the immediate and long-term environmental and social impact a water bottling plant would have on Oregon, the State should prohibit Nestlé from bottling the water of Oxbow Springs.”

While the public comments delivered to the Capitol today are officially directed to the State Water Resources Department, the residents also delivered a copy of each comment to Governor Kate Brown.

“The thousands of Oregonians opposed to this proposal see Nestlé’s abuses in California and elsewhere and don’t want state agencies to open Oregon up to a multinational corporation with Nestlé’s track record,” said Julia DeGraw, senior northwest organizer for Food & Water Watch. “ODFW has shown Oregon residents we can’t trust it to protect our water from Nestlé. That’s why we’re also delivering these thousands of comments to Governor Kate Brown. We need leadership from the top.”

Also on the 14th The Keep Nestle Out of the Gorge coalition submitted its official public comments on both Cascade Locks’ and ODFW’s water rights transfer applications prepared by Crag Law Center.

Groups delivered some 30,000 comments, petitions and letter to Governor Kate Browns office on Thursday, May 14th as well. You should continue to reach out to her office asking her to protect Oregon’s water. You can call her office at this number: 503-378-4582.

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