Oregon at the Forefront of Battle Against Nestlé Water Grab
By Alyssa Doom
Lately, unemployment and the suffering economy monopolize news headlines. So when Nestlé promises to bring the hope of jobs and prosperity to a city, some find it easy to ignore the track record of negative impacts that the water-bottling giant has had on communities across the country.
From California to Maine, communities nationwide have fought back against Nestlé’s water grab. Some have victoriously warded off the corporation, while others have not been so fortunate. In Mecosta County Michigan in 2009, after an 8-year legal battle, citizens finally succeeded in requiring Nestlé to reduce its water pumping and decrease negative impacts on the County’s water resources, but problems persist. Michigan Citizen’s for Water Conservation, the primary group fighting Nestlé there, was left with over $1 million in debt due to legal fees and the profit-driven corporation won’t answer the community’s questions about exactly how many local workers it employs at the Mecosta County location. This doesn’t exactly instill faith that Nestlé hires heavily from the local pool of employees.
Now, Oregon is at the forefront of the Nestlé battle. Members of the Keep Nestlé out of the Gorge Coalition are fighting to prevent the construction of a water bottling facility in the Columbia River Gorge city of Cascade Locks. The diverse coalition, representing consumer advocacy, labor, religious, environmental, and public health groups, has been defending Oregon’s public water resources for over three years in the campaign against Nestlé. Their opposition is Nestlé proponents who believe the corporation’s promises for good local jobs.In a city where economic strife has already cost the community its high school, Nestlé supporters argue that the corporation’s arrival would bring the community much-needed stability.
As a lead partner in the coalition, Food & Water Watch hired experts to complete an economic study on the situation, including an assessment about job creation for the city of Cascade Locks and an evaluation of the probable impacts of Nestlé’s operations. As it turns out, Nestlé’s employment promises in Oregon are far from guarantees. While the corporation claims 53 jobs will be created, outsiders already employed by Nestlé will fill some of these jobs, and none of them can be guaranteed to Cascade Locks locals. In addition, the jobs figure provided by Nestlé does not take into account that the plant will not operate at full capacity when it opens (a fact mentioned by Nestlé’s own representative in a public meeting in Cascade Locks), thus there would be no assurance that those 53 jobs would be available to city residents when the plant opened its doors, if ever.
Aside from the jobs factor, the economic study indicated that Nestlé’s arrival would have further significant negative impacts on Oregonians including tax increases needed for road upgrades for the 200 truck trips associated with the proposed plant during peak season and potential damage to groundwater supplies. The water swap would also set a dangerous precedent for the state of Oregon in allowing a state agency, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), to give away public water resources for a water bottling company’s gain.
With results of the recent study shedding some light on the economic truth about Nestlé, the Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge Coalition’s campaign continues to gain momentum. Already, over 30,000 Oregonians have protested the proposal by asking Governor Kitzhaber to put a stop to the water exchange process that would allow ODFW to give away Oregon’s water. Despite the resounding voices of protesting citizens, last April the Governor declared that he would take no stance on the issue. The coalition will continue to target Governor Kitzhaber in this campaign, as he is the one individual who can put a stop to the water exchange process. If he thinks the coalition and more than 30,000 Oregonians are quietly going to let him back away from the issue he is gravely mistaken.
In June, Food and Water Watch took the lead in organizing a huge rally asking the Governor to say “no” to Nestlé. Over 300 protestors held signs and a 40-foot long “Keep Nestle Out of the Gorge Banner and chanted “Water is a human right! Don’t let Nestlé win this fight!” Terri Swier, the founder of Michigan Citizen’s for Water Conservation and one of the lead activists responsible for fighting Nestlé in Michigan, spoke at the rally. Swier shared her experiences with Nestlé’s pursuit of her community’s water and urged Oregonian’s to continue pressuring the Governor. The rally was a huge success in garnering media attention surrounding the issue and public support for the campaign
In upcoming months, the coalition will continue to put its energy and resources into the fight against Nestlé by organizing film screenings, bird-dogging the Governor, and increasing campaign visibility throughout Oregon. This week, one group of concerned citizens organized a 50-mile ultra-run to raise awareness for the campaign.
Clearly, Oregonians are passionate about their water and won’t give it up without a fight. Diverse voices from across the state will continue to hound Governor Kitzhaber until he stands up for their right to clean, affordable, public water. A tiny amount of low-paying, hypothetical jobs cannot justify the damage corporations like Nestlé will do to our communities and our water supplies. Allowing such a corporation into our communities sets a dangerous precedent for public water resources. Join us in telling Governor Kitzhaber to say “no” to Nestlé to protect our right to clean, affordable water!
Alyssa Doom is an intern for Food & Water Watch in the Portland office.