Why are we letting a big corporation take our water and sell it back to us?
We’re getting long past the point where we need to stop buying bottled water. Aside from the fact that plastic bottles harm the environment in their disposal process, America is running out of water to boot. Factor in the dubious business practices of companies like Nestle, and there should be no reasons at all why we continue to support that industry.
In southern California, water rationing, whether mandated or self regulated, was a normal way of life. We turned on the sprinklers on certain days of the week, and let the level of the swimming pool stay low on the tiles. I never really thought of water scarcity until I was older and lived through a few California droughts. I considered moving to Oregon or Washington state because there was plenty of rain and everything was green.
A few years ago, a man named Gary Harrinton of Eagle Point, Oregon, had three reservoirs on his property for personal use. Harrington said he applied for three permits to legally house reservoirs for storm and snow water runoff on his property. One of the “reservoirs” had been on his property for 37 years. In 2003, he was granted a permit by the state but shortly after it was reneged. He’d been fighting to get his permit back for almost a decade when he was finally arrested and jailed for 30 days.
According to Oregon water laws, all water is publicly owned. Therefore, anyone who wants to store any type of water on their property must first obtain a permit from state water managers. The right to divert water and place it to beneficial use can take on a number of forms. Each has its own related risks. More can be found about Oregon water laws here. These rights fall into the following general categories:
The latest and creepiest story happened recently in a town called Cascade Locks, Oregon, population 1200. There is fresh spring water from Oxbow Springs that Nestle wants and has wanted for over a decade but has been locked up in negotiations with city officials. No corporation staking their claim is more relentlessly terrorizing than Nestle. Their tactics and how they buy up the rights of public water, even if it takes a decade or two of litigation, they wear out everyone in the process.
Nestle has been trying to entice the residents of Cascade Locks with barbecues offering free food and, you guess it, bottled water. They promise jobs and economic prosperity, appealing concepts to places suffering high unemployment. But it hasn’t worked out like that in other locations that Nestle has moved in on.
“They pick a place with spring water resources that needs jobs, they’ll overpromise on jobs, overestimate their economic impact, and underestimate their environmental impact,” said Julia DeGraw, an organizer with Food and Water Watch.
Oxbow Springs water replenishes the salmon hatchery near by as well. Originally, Nestle wanted a gallon for gallon swap between the state and city of Cascade Locks. Basically, the state would buy the water from the city and then sell it to Nestle. That’s right. One of the world’s largest conglomerates has litigated for six years to gain permits that would allow it to bottle and sell spring water owned by the state government. Opponents warn against privatizing a public resource for corporate profits. Nestlé contends it’s simply responding to consumer demand for bottled water.
“They capitalize on the perception that spring water is healthier, that it’s healing water,” said Todd Jarvis, an Oregon State University professor who studies the bottled water industry. “It’s great marketing.”
Nestle took a turn in procedure in order to speed up the process. Their officials believe by swapping water rights, also known as cross-transferring, instead of trading the water itself, they can speed up the process and that has worked out for them quite well.
“It’s a simpler more direct way to accomplish the same objective,” said Dave Palais, Nestlé’s spokesman for the Cascade Locks project.
In January, 2015, in a major shift, the city council voted with Nestle. The plan calls to replenish the salmon hatchery with city water so that Nestle has the rights to the actual spring water. Nestle will then sell the bottled spring water at thousands of dollars in profits. In return, Nestle will employ 50 people and double the property tax revenue to the struggling city.
“It’s a win for everybody,” Cascade Locks Mayor Tom Cramblett said.
Environmental watch groups opposed the deal, saying that Nestle is privatizing water. They warned against privatizing a public good, pointing to other towns where Nestlé was accused of overdrawing groundwater as red flags. They want to know who is going to pay for the infrastructure, such as roads, for the one-street town that will now have 200 trucks a days transporting water to the bottling plant.
In the process of requesting cross-transfer permits, however, the State Water Resource Department, who looks over the permit requests and considers everything, including how the deal would impact the broader public before authorizing permits, is eliminated in the process.
Corporate profits have won again in a small town of 1200 people with weak opposition. The one hope was the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. If they approved the deal, then Nestle would virtually own the town. Nestles tactics got them ousted from cities Enumclaw, Washington, and McCloud, California, before approaching little Cascade Locks, Oregon.
On April 10, 2015, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife approved the permits for Nestle’s deal. The process has begun and it will take about one year to get operations up and running.
Those who oppose the deal have said they plan to put up a fight. A 30-day public comment period will take place. After that, the Oregon Water Resources Department will issue a preliminary decision. The public will have another chance to comment before a final decision is made.Since taking office in February, activists from Portland-based environmental group “Bark” have sent Gov. Kate Brown’s office more than 2,000 letters protesting the Nestle plant. The Sierra Club is also a staunch opponent.
“For an incoming governor who is hearing with that level of volume from her constituents, it’s extremely disappointing to see her sit by while her agency moves forward with such an unpopular proposal,” said Alex Brown, Bark’s executive director.
The ownership of water as a commodity is the end goal and a scary proposition. And Nestle is leading the charge. The only real way to stop this corporation from taking all of our water is simple; stop buying their products. All they are doing is taking what we already had and selling it back to us anyway.
We are on a path to destruction here, and there’s no reason for it, other than to make a select few rich.
“It is interesting that people spend a lot of time looking at organic food, organic vegetables,
reading the labels of what they’re going to eat. But when they choose to ingest a liquid beverage,
whether it be bottled water or a carbonated soft drink or an energy drink they are not
exploring the source. Yet that is the one thing that they are going to drink that is going to
touch every single organ of their body.”
Steve Emery, CEO of EARTH20