Crag’s blog series, “The Way We Work,” showcases the many facets of our work through the voices of our clients. The series provides a glimpse of the variety of ways Crag supports individuals and organizations across the Northwest working to protect and sustain healthy communities and the natural environment. As a client-focused law center, Crag’s work is by nature “behind the scenes,” and we hope that you will enjoy getting to know our clients and learning how Crag’s unique model of legal aid for the environment advances their important grassroots work.
Food & Water Watch: Julia DeGraw
For the first installment of “The Way We Work,” we interviewed Julia DeGraw of Food & Water Watch, one Crag’s clients working to prevent Nestlé from privatizing Oregon’s public spring water in the Columbia Gorge. Food & Water Watch, BARK, Oregon’s public employees union AFSCME, and several other local organizations comprise the Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition, whose goal is to prevent Nestlé from constructing a water bottling plant in the Columbia Gorge. Crag has been providing pro bono legal services to support the coalition’s campaign, and on behalf of Food & Water Watch and BARK, Crag is now leading the legal fight against Nestlé.
As the Northwest Organizer for Food & Water Watch, Julia works with local groups to prevent the privatization of public water and to stop companies from bottling Northwest water.
Why did the Coalition seek out Crag’s assistance in the Nestlé campaign?
Early in the campaign, we were just trying to figure out the lay of the land—all we knew was that Nestlé wanted to bottle water and was trying to get the City of Cascade Locks to exchange water rights with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW), which would allow Nestlé to bottle publicly-owned water from Oxbow springs currently used by ODFW for a fish hatchery. We wanted to know how the exchange would work and were simply trying to navigate Oregon water law. Crag did some preliminary research into the water law and its application in Nestlé’s bottling proposal—they uncovered information that was invaluable for the first phase of the campaign. They were happy to help us out even though there wasn’t a need for full legal representation on the campaign.
Later on in the campaign when we had to decide whether or not to take legal action we decided that the public interest in protecting public water resources from Nestlé would be best defended in court, specifically by Crag Law Center. Crag’s strong track record, familiarity with the issue and their unique blend of public advocacy with impeccable legal representation made them a shoe-in for the job. Food & Water Watch believes in grassroots organizing and winning campaigns through people power and when we needed legal representation on this campaign we chose the firm that had a strong affinity for activism too.
What is an example of how Crag has made the Coalition stronger or more successful?
Through the contested case hearing process, Crag unearthed information integral to the case that we never would have found. And, whereas the Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition has no real expertise to say whether something is legal or not, Crag has the credibility to do so. Crag brings another layer of integrity and power to the campaign and helps to show that we represent public interests in an issue that has serious legal consequences. We are lucky to have a law firm that is not afraid to bridge the gap between activism and legal work.
What about Crag inspires you and your work?
The Nestlé issue is proving to be a long-term campaign and Crag’s help has been inspiring for the whole Coalition. They filled a necessary gap in making our legal fight not only possible but incredibly strong. It’s inspiring to see a law firm that believes protecting Oregon’s water as well as the Gorge is important and worthwhile. It’s also inspiring to see a non-profit law firm run by attorneys who were willing to forgo the private sector for the sake of doing legal work that matches their values.
At Food & Water Watch, I appreciate the ability to work with Crag because our success relies on the strength of our partnerships—our campaigns are only as strong as our base of support which includes not only tens of thousands of Oregonians but also the incredible legal team at Crag Law Center. Crag represents a large percentage of Oregonians by taking on this case and victory is in our sights because of them.
Emma Stanford is a recent graduate of Portland State University, where she studied Political Science and Spanish and wrote her undergraduate thesis on the ill effects of global capitalism on the forests of developing countries. A Northwest native, her biggest passions are currently the Cascadia bioregion, gardening, and bicycles.