A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Bottled Water Brush Off Debriefing - Updates

To sell, or not to sell, Oregon's Oil: that is the question (apologies to Shakespeare's play Hamlet). Nestle Waters North America expressed interest in opening a bottled water plant in the Columbia River Gorge at Cascade Locks since 2008. Their odyssey has spanned three Governors in Oregon, one in favor of the idea, one non-committal, and one that changed their stance as more voices demanded being heard. 

It is not as if the proposed plant would be Oregon's first. Kelly House and Mark Graves of The Oregonian are knowledge journalists par excellence following the situation and prepared the map showing the 30 plus bottlers that already bottle and sell Oregon's Oil - the perceived "abundance", save even "surplus" by some water experts, of water in the Oregon Cascades.

The proposed bottling plant is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to water conflict and water awareness in Oregon. The Certificate Program in Water Conflict and Transformation at Oregon State University videotaped one of the first public meetings held on the project. The video is used as an example of what happens when process professionals do a poor job of intake and preparation before a public meeting. This meeting became testy when many of the public were worried about truck traffic when the meeting conveners tacitly assumed the contested issues would focus on water rights. 

Students from the Conflict Resolution program within the University of Oregon Law School regularly study the conflict for course projects or MS theses. Students at Oregon State University regularly select the conflict for course projects in International Water Resources Management and Water Resources Management in the US because the policy associated with bottled water is global as well as national, and more importantly, there is alot of media coverage on the topic. 

I am regularly interviewed by the media on the Cascade Locks situation. VICE News was the latest inquiry after ballot measure 14-55 passed in Hood River County - 69 percent of Hood River County voters supported the bottling ban while 42 percent of voters in the Cascade Locks precinct did. 

But it is easier to refer the media to other articles rather than taking up their valuable time to get up to speed. This Oregon Business Magazine article reported that the Cascade Locks city council passed a resolution setting municipal water rates at $2.50 per thousand gallons. Cascade Locks would also permit users of at least 250,000 gallons a month to negotiate a lower contracted rate..."one that, in the case of Nestlé, would include the Oxbow Springs water, to which only the company will have access".... “We pay $10 per thousand gallons, a fair rate [for springwater],” says Steve Emery, CEO of Culver-based bottler EartH2O. 

As part of the Oregon Business Magazine article I suggested legislation that enabled a public-interest review of all water rights transfers given the amount of money being made from a public resource like springwater. “Oregon maintains an international reputation for having abundant clean water,” says Jarvis. “Why not have the companies that are profiting from this reputation pay a fee to Oregon to maintain it and use the sorely needed revenues to shore up budget shortfalls?” 

Crazy idea, I know, kind of like the State of Wyoming imposing a tax on wind, or the State of Oregon imposing a timber tax to fund the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.

The *gift* keeps getting larger and more diverse. The Cascade Locks situation has morphed into *video wars*, both pro and con. I used these videos in a class on Water Conflict Management that I taught at UNESCO-IHE in Delft in early April. The students examined the visual and verbal messages in each video as part of an exercise in the use of video on water conflict: 

Nestle Waters North America funded this video where they used upbeat music, interviews with Cascade Locks residents who support the bottling plant, and images of closed businesses to sell the message that the bottling plant would help revive the local economy. 

The Local Water Alliance and Food & Water Watch, in concert with the folks from the Story of Stuff, developed this video where the music is less upbeat, interviews with Cascade Locks residents who oppose the bottling plant, and images of the incredible beauty of the Columbia River Gorge including agriculture in the gorge that is reliant on local water resources perceived to be at risk if the bottling plant is constructed. 

A local media consultant developed this video that starts with an interview with a woman representing the Wanapum Fishing People Against Nestle and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. The Tribes also marched on the Oregon State Capitol, arguing the Oxbow Spring that is the subject of the debate is a "healing" spring protected by the Warm Springs Treaty of 1855.

Despite the "landslide" victory of ballot measure 14-55, The Oregonian reports that Cascade Locks is not throwing in the towel yet. Cascade Locks is exploring possible options for moving the bottling plan forward, and .... "those options wouldn't be revealed later because of attorney-client privilege." The Hood River Board of Commissioners are concerned they will get involved in a potential legal battle. Nestlé indicated that the company "does not currently intend to pursue its own legal challenge to the measure." And yet, Hood River operates under "home rule charters" as opposed to "general law" like most other Oregon counties. According to The Oregonian article...Oregon law expressly states that general law counties cannot enforce their ordinances and rules within city limits. But the law says nothing about such limitations or rights for home rule counties."

And what about the State of Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) position on the situation? Word on the street is the following:
  • OWRD claims the ballot measure would have no influence on how they process the water exchange application.
  • OWRD is beginning the development of a new policy regarding independent parties seeking state held water resources.
Update - Folks from the Alliance for Democracy, KNOG (Keep Nestle Out of the Gorge), Crag Law Center, Food and Water Watch, and Water Watch of Oregon gave me permission to post a summary of a meeting they had with OWRD Director, Senior Policy Coordinator, DOJ Attorney, and the State's Native American Liaison in April, 2016. The meeting notes are *as-received* with minor editing (for example, I removed reference to personal names).

The gist of the meeting:

Ballot Measure:
  • They claim the measure will have no influence on how they process the water exchange application (even after Crag Law Center made the point that water bottling would be an illegal activity and the application process should hopefully take that into account)
  • They haven't even really started the development of the new policy the Governor's Office asked them to come up with so they wouldn't say if or how the ballot measure outcome would effect that
Water Exchange Process:
  • When asked what the process will be for this water exchange application (that they have been sitting on since 2010) they said they didn't have one yet
  • When specifically asked if there would be a chance for new parties to officially weigh in or submit comments (with standing) they would not say whether or not that would be possible. Even after we mentioned that in the past 6 years a lot has changed and groups like the tribes might want the chance to weigh in, especially since the new drought conditions--they still refused to say if new groups could intervene in any substantive way
  • They did say there would be a public hearing that was separate from an actual contested case hearing, but again, exactly what that looked like and if new entities to intervene with standing was not clarified
  • It seemed clear that unless ODFW withdraws the application that OWRD will proceed with processing the application and will not re-open it to public comments
Development of new policy regarding independent parties seeking state held water resources:
  • They are just getting started. No real news here other than: they will have a transparent process, will involved stakeholders (wouldn't say who) and coordinate closely with the Governor's Office
  • They have formed a committee of two OWRD commissioners to oversee this policy proposal 
  • The Senior Policy Coordinator asked a question that seemed to come out of left field about state lands as it would pertain to Nestle or any other water water bottler gaining access to spring water sources through access to state lands (it was very out of the blue and made us wonder what prompted her to ask)
  • Timeline: would not commit but would like to have a policy before the next leg. session starts. They have a tentative goal of new policy of by the end of 2016.
  • They agreed to meet with us again after the election and hopefully when they will have more info about the policy development and about the water exchange process
Update - Bloomberg  has a great article that references the Hood River outcome about Nestlé Waters North America proposing to open a bottling facility in Phoenix, Arizona that would bottle 35 million gallons in a 395,000-square-foot facility that will create 40-50 jobs. Why Phoenix? According to a Nestlé's spokesperson, "...some of the main factors driving his company's site selection: water quantity, water quality, regulatory burdens, local concerns, and Nestlé's corporate perspective....and...."We want to be where people want us..." 
* * * 
~Lenny Kravitz

No comments:

Post a Comment