This week Crag Law Center filed protests of two Water Resources Department decisions that start the approvals process for a Nestlé water bottling plant in the Columbia Gorge.  The decisions under protest are integral to a water rights exchange between the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the City of Cascade Locks.  The state agency would trade its spring water for the city’s well water, allowing the city to then sell the spring water to Nestlé.

Our clients Bark and Food & Water Watch are members of the Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition.  We are always looking for ways to build partnerships beyond the environmental community, and this coalition brings together non-traditional allies.  The group includes Oregon’s public employees union AFSCME, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Oregon Mission Centres of Sisters of the Holy Names, together with Sierra Club, Environment Oregon, and Alliance for Democracy.

The Nestlé issue transcends the environmental movement because of the range of problems it presents.  Nestlé has a poor track record as an employer, casting doubt on its promises of good-paying jobs.  For many, the idea of privatizing our shared public resource—water—for private gain resonates as a violation of the public trust and the state’s duty to protect our natural resources for present and future Oregonians.  Building on these common interests, the coalition has broadened its reach by including groups whose values resonate with a variety of communities and perspectives.

The proposal also raises the larger question of Oregon’s economic future.  Will we continue to attempt to drive our economy through extraction and privatization of our natural resources?  Or will we progress to an economic future driven by innovation and recognizing the value of protecting ecosystem services?