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August 2nd, 2012

Oregon at the Forefront of Battle Against Nestlé Water Grab

Oregonians Fight Nestle

More than 300 Oregonians of all ages stand up against Nestle at a June rally to protect their state’s precious water resources. (Credit: Martin Evans)















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.

7 Comments on Oregon at the Forefront of Battle Against Nestlé Water Grab

  1. Susan Gundlach says:

    Our fish & water resources are so valuable to other industries that it’s not pertient to give them away to an outside company bringing in no good benefits for Oregon.

  2. Jim Geddes says:

    I do not understand, someone in Eagle Point Oregon gets 30 days in jail for capturing rain water and Nestle wants our water for free? I’m thinking the person in Eagle Point Oregon can have the rain water as it will be returned to the enviorment through irrigation and or saved for fire suppression and Nestle needs to go away.

    • Stacey C says:

      I was thinking about Nestle too. Have you heard that Nestle big wig talking about how we the people shouldn’t have a right to water? As if it’s some kind of frivolous luxury! I’d like to see him deplete the water where he lives! You know that will never happen. Think about how many brands of water there are. People don’t even realize that bottled water is less regulated than the water that comes out of the tap. And all that plastic! Every single piece of plastic ever made is still with us today. Plastic was invented in the 50s. It seems that we have to fight for our rights or we are going to lose them all.

  3. Carolyn Thomas says:

    Bottled water? In plastic? Plastic is made from oil. Why support the oil industry that way? Why drink good water from such a container anyway? I have never understood the need for bottled water. We have been sold a bottled water hype.
    Leave the water alone! And by the way, big oil is busy poisoning our water with its fracking practices.

  4. TheGoodFairy says:

    Their corporate coffers would get fatter, and the eco-system in Oregon would be irreparably harmed. While unemployment is an issue in Oregon, the reason people live there would be diminished. Nestle has proven itself an untrustworthy company in the past. This is not the place to test their business ethics now.

  5. […] Years of opposition to the plans of Nestlé in McCloud finally resulted in the company giving up on its efforts there. However, the company quickly moved on to finding new locations to take water and make a profit while destroying the environment (just an added bonus, of course). The corporation controls one-third of the U.S. market in bottled water, selling it as 70 different brand names, including Perrier, Arrowhead, Deer Park and Poland Spring. The two other large bottled water companies are Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, though Nestlé had earned a reputation “in targeting rural communities for spring water, a move that has earned it fierce opposition across the U.S. from towns worried about losing their precious water resources.” And water grabs by Nestlé as well as opposition continue to engulf towns and states and cities across the country, with one more recent case in Oregon. […]

  6. Marsa says:

    I won’t be happy until I see Nestlè out of the U.S.! Let them pump their own water into plastic bottles. Neither the bottle or the industry is beneficial to the U.S. Let’s train the U.S. citizens that will lose their employment for the alternative energy industry and get rid of Nestlè once and for all.

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