Crag Stops Nestlé From Bottling Water in the Columbia Gorge


In October 2017, after a long-fought battle, Crag and local conservation groups defeated Nestlé’s plan to bottle water from a pristine section of the Columbia River National Scenic Area and to build a plant in Cascade Locks. 

Over the years, tens of thousands of Oregonians, including local residents, conservation groups, and leaders of Columbia River Tribes have actively opposed the transfer of public water to Nestlé. In 2012, Crag represented Bark and Food and Water Watch to file a legal challenge.

Nearly five years later, Governor Brown sent a letter to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife asking agency Director Curt Melcher to withdraw the water exchange application that would put Oxbow Springs water into the hands of the City of Cascade Locks and clear the way for Nestlé to privatize public water.


What was at Stake?

In 2008, Nestlé showed up on Oregon’s doorstep with offers of jobs, economic growth and what they pitched as a great opportunity for the State of Oregon. Nestlé wanted the rights to pump 150 million gallons of water a year from Oxbow Springs and then bottle the water in a tax-deferred plant to be built in the City of Cascade Locks. 

Oxbow Springs are a pristine network of natural springs in Mt. Hood National Forest currently used by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) for its Little Herman Creek fish hatchery operation. Nestlé would pipe the water away from its natural drainage straight to its facility, to be put in single-use plastic bottles which would be loaded onto diesel burning semi trucks and carried through the Gorge.

Upon learningof Nestlé’s attempted water grab, conservation and public interest groups formed the Keep Nestlé Out of Gorge Coalition to build awareness and opposition to the proposal. Among the many coalition members were Bark, Food and Water Watch, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Environment Oregon, and the Sierra Club. They were joined by members of the Local Water Alliance, and  members ofthe Columbia River Tribes, including the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Yakama Nation, as well as the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy and Anna Mae Leonard stand in front of the Oregon State Capitol. Photo by Blue Ackerman

In 2010, then-governor Kulongoski directed the ODFW to exchange publicly held Oxbow Springs water with municipal well-water from Cascade Locks by filing water transfer applications with the Oregon Department of Water Resources. Approval of this transfer would allow Cascade Locks to then sell that water to Nestlé.

The Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition led a powerful campaign to generate public comments on the applications. The Water Resources Department received an unprecedented number of comments in opposition to the transfers. Nonetheless, in 2012, the Water Resources Department approved ODFW’s water transfer applications.

Nestlé’s proposal not only threatened our precious water resources, but also meant the increased manufacturing of wasteful plastic bottles. And based on its past practices in other communities, coalition members were reasonably concerned that Nestlé would not serve the rural communities’ best interests. If history is any guide, had Nestlé established its plant, it would have continued to seek additional water sources in the Gorge to add to its production line. Nestlé also has a poor track record as an employer, casting doubt on its promises of good-paying jobs.

For many, the idea of privatizing our 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. 

On behalf of Bark and Food & Water Watch, Crag Law Center filed protests to the Water Resources Department’s decision to approve the transfer and challenged the legality of ODFW’s water rights. This led to a nearly five-year process, during which time Nestlé’s plans could not move forward.

First Victory

In September 2015, Crag helped the Local Water Alliance file a ballot measure petition––The Hood River County Water Protection Measure. The measure would prohibit the commercial production of bottled water in Hood River County and make the transport of water resources for that purpose illegal. With over 100 local businesses and farmers endorsing the ballot measure, it passed on May 17th 2016, with 68% of residents voting “yes.” 

However, it wasn’t the end of the fight against Nestlé. Despite the passage of the measure, the State of Oregon and the City of Cascade Locks continued to pursue the Oxbow Springs water exchange, making clear that they would ignore the will of Hood River County residents to push the Nestlé proposal forward. 

Victory at Last!

On October 27, 2017, after pressure from conservation groups, Oregon Governor Kate Brown put Oregonians’ concerns about a Nestlé water grab in Cascade Locks to rest. Governor Brown sent a letter to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife asking agency Director Curt Melcher to withdraw the water rights exchange application. The Governor’s action effectively prevents Nestlé from gaining access to Oxbow Springs. 

In her letter, the Governor cited concerns over the uncertainty of Nestlé’s proposal in Cascade Locks in light of the passage of Measure 14-55 and the significant state resources that would be expended in seeing the project through to the end. Shortly after the Governor’s directive and ODFW’s withdrawal of the exchange application, Nestlé packed up its things and closed down its office in Cascade Locks.

“The Governor’s letter confirms the message we have been sending all along, a corporate water grab is not in the public interest.”

-Maura Fahey, Crag Staff Attorney.

“This is really a resounding victory for everyone who cares about protecting not only our water supply, but water supplies around the world.” 

-Aurora del Val, Local Water Alliance campaign director.

Our Clients

Crag represented Bark and Food and Water Watch in this case, and helped the Local Water Alliance fend off challenges to Measure 14-55. 

Bark is an organization that wants to maintain Mt. Hood National Forest as a place where natural processes prevail, where wildlife thrives and where local communities have a social, cultural, and economic investment in its restoration and preservation. Bark assists local activist groups to protect Mt. Hood from commercial destruction. 

Food and Water Watch is a national organization working to create a healthy future for all people, where everyone has food they can trust, clean drinking water and a livable climate. They try to get people involved in the pressing issues of our time at the local, state, and federal level to hold politicians accountable and resist corporate control.

The Local Water Alliance is a group of residents that opposed commercial water exports and the Nestlé project in Hood River County in order to protect their farms, families, and fish. 

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