Measure to block Nestlé bottling plant headed to May 2016 ballot

Local Water Alliance members gathered over 1,600 signatures for the "Water Protection Measure."

Local Water Alliance members gathered over 1,600 signatures for the “Water Protection Measure.”

Local Water Alliance, a group of activists in Hood River County has gathered enough signatures to qualify a ballot initiative aimed at stopping the Nestlé corporation from bottling and selling water from a spring in the Columbia River Gorge.

The “Water Protection Measure” is slated to go before county voters in the May 2016 primary election. The initiative would ban commercial bottled water operations in the county, where Nestle for years has pursued the prospect of bottling Oxbow Springs water.

“We are very excited to have qualified so quickly and look forward to voters being able to have the final say on whether Hood River County gets a reputation as a county willing to sell off the future of our water supply,” said Pamela Larsen, a chief petitioner who filed the measure, in a statement.

Though the legal requirement for the initiative was 497 signatures, petitioners garnered more than triple that amount —an estimated 1,620.

“Considering we had the holidays, we had ice and extreme weather conditions, I’m pretty happy with this,” said Aurora del Val, LWA campaign director. “I think this is democracy and we’ll leave it to the voters. It’s not just Cascade Locks, it’s the Gorge … it’s Oregon water.”

The initiative strives to amend the county charter to prohibit any business from producing 1,000 or more gallons of bottled water per day for commercial sale, and from transporting it throughout the county.

Since 2008, Nestlé Waters North America has attempted to site a bottling plant in Cascade Locks, drawing upon nearby Oxbows Spring as its source of spring water. Supporters of the deal laud the potential for job creation and tax revenue, while opponents decry potential impacts on water and wildlife resources.

Crag Law Center has been representing opponents of the project for many years.  In September, county legal counsel initially rejected the group’s proposal.  Crag successfully filed an appeal with circuit court to rule against the decision, which led to the county deciding to let the petition go through.

Members of LWA feel if the voter initiative gets through its legal hurdles and succeeds, it could be an example for other groups combating water bottling plants.

“I’m hoping it’s a step forward for others to fight anything like this,” said Margie Curtis of Cascade Locks, who signed the petition.

Read the Hood River News article.

Read the Oregonian article.