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Nestlé water transfer pushes forward

Cascade Locks’ plan to bring a Nestlé water bottling plant to town inched forward in late October, despite the passage of a ballot measure in May banning such companies in Hood River County.

The Oregon Department of Water Resources on Oct. 31 issued a final order approving a water transfer that clarifies Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s diversion points at Little Herman Creek, where the agency pulls water for its fish hatchery.

The creek feeds Oxbow Springs, a waterway Nestlé has eyed since 2008 as a possible source for its Arrowhead brand.

Charting out ODFW’s diversion points was a first hurdle for the Nestlé deal. The next step — a gallon-per-gallon water exchange between ODFW and the City of Cascade Locks — could still be years away.

Via the water exchange, the city would trade 0.5 cubic feet per second (cfs) of its municipal well water for an equal amount of ODFW’s spring water from Oxbow Springs. The city would then sell the spring water to Nestlé for bottling at a $50 million plant on Port of Cascade Locks property.

ODFW uses their existing water right of 10 cfs to rear salmon at Oxbow Fish Hatchery, just east of Cascade Locks.

The transfer adds two new diversion points, specifying where ODFW can access water. It also breaks down the water right’s definition into two parts — one with 9.5 and another with 0.5. The smaller one could be involved in the actual water exchange.

Gordon Zimmerman, Cascade Locks city administrator, explained in July that the water transfer process was a first phase, but the actual exchange could take anywhere from “three weeks and three years” to make its way through the state regulatory process.

“That (exchange) process has not begun yet,” Zimmerman told the Hood River News last week.

The state’s decision to greenlight ODFW’s diversion point clarification now opens a 60-day window for protests.

A legal issue with ramifications still to be seen comes from “Hood River County Water Protection Measure,” or 14-55, the countywide voter measure that passed on May 17. It amended the county charter to ban large-scale commercial water bottling companies like Nestlé from operating within county limits.

That rule is enforceable in circuit court, according to the measure’s text, but it hasn’t been tested.

So far, neither the Hood River County Board of Commissioners nor the Cascade Locks City Council has taken official action to challenge the measure, though attorneys with both jurisdictions have investigated their options in case a lawsuit emerges from any party.

Cascade Locks’ elected leaders announced shortly after the measure passed they would continue pursuing options to bring Nestlé to town, citing the will of voters within their precinct — the only part of the county where the measure lost.

In July, council sent a letter to the corporation requesting a traffic plan that would reroute trucks away from residential neighborhoods, assuming the plant becomes reality.

Pushback from activists and tribal groups has remained strong against Nestlé. In September, Anna Mae Leonard of Cascade Locks fasted in protest at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, uniting a group of tribal members who called on Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to deny the water exchange. (Leonard had taken similar action the year prior at Cascade Locks City Hall.)

Meanwhile, Nestlé has been eyeing other communities for a Northwest bottling plant — including another in the Columbia River Gorge — according to local newspapers.

The multinational company has approached city leaders in Goldendale with a similar business pitch, according to a Nov. 2 story in the Goldendale Sentinel.

The Goldendale plan, which also reportedly involves a $50 million plant that would employ up to 50 people, would draw from Bloodgood Springs. Nestlé was expected to make their case to the public at a town hall meeting on Monday.

Nestlé also pitched the concept this summer to leaders in the small town of Waitsburg, in southeastern Washington, the Union Bulletin newspaper reported.

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