By Julia Degraw
Portland, Ore. – Over 300 Oregonians gathered at Terry Schrunk Plaza in Southwest Portland yesterday to protest the development of a Nestlé Corporation water bottling facility in the Columbia River Gorge city of Cascade Locks. Protesters called on Governor Kitzhaber to stop a water exchange that would allow a state agency, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to give away publicly owned water so Nestlé can bottle and sell it.
The purpose of yesterday’s rally was to tell the Governor that no stance on this issue is unacceptable. Joining the hundreds of Oregonians at the rally was Terry Swier, a lead activist in a campaign famous for fighting Nestlé’s controversial water bottling practices in Michigan. Swier was featured in the documentaries Flow and Blue Gold.
“I don’t trust a multinational corporation with a poor environmental and employment track record coming into the Columbia River Gorge where I live. I’m thankful that my fellow Oregonians are willing to stand with me to oppose this plan,” said Columbia Gorge resident Tim Norgren at the Shrunk Plaza rally.
The plan Norgren refers to is a proposal in which ODFW would exchange spring water it uses for its Oxbow Fish Hatchery for an equivalent amount of well water from the city of Cascade Locks. Cascade Locks would then sell the water to Nestlé for a fraction of a penny per gallon. The state would receive no money for the water it gives to Cascade Locks.
“In a state with phenomenal public water resources, where local governments including Multnomah County are cutting back on bottled water, it makes no sense to allow state agencies to set the dangerous precedent of giving away public water resources for this unnecessary and wasteful industry,” said former Multnomah Commissioner Barbara Willer.
Members of the “Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge” Coalition have been involved in a campaign to fight the water bottling facility for over three years. The coalition, along with over 30,000 Oregonians have asked Governor Kitzhaber to halt the plans by advising ODFW and the Oregon Department of Water Resources to prevent the water exchange. Despite this public outcry, the Hood River News reported in April that Governor Kitzhaber does not plan to take a stance on the issue.
“From my own experience I would tell the residents of Oregon to ask hard questions of Nestlé and their elected officials,” said Swier. “Don’t Take Nestlé’s word on anything. Even though we’re winning in Michigan, irreparable harm has been inflicted by Nestlé on our water system. Our lakes and streams will never be the same.”
The rally concluded with dozens of activists raising a 40-foot “Keep Nestlé Out of the Gorge” banner while Northwest Organizer for Food & Water Watch Julia DeGraw led them in the chant: “Water is a human right! Nestlé will not win this fight!” Protesters called the governor’s office to demand he protect their water from Nestlé. To conclude the rally, the Cedro Willie band led protesters in singing “Roll On Columbia” and “This Land is Your Land.”
“Over 150 years ago, the Sisters of the Holy Names came to Oregon and since 2008 have been advocating for Oregonians’ free access to good water as a sacred right,” said Sister Brigid Baumann, a representative from the Sisters of the Holy Names – one of the groups who organized the rally. “It is contrary to the common good to sell water for profit.”
“We voted Governor Kitzhaber into office to serve the best interests of all Oregonians and our state’s precious natural resources,” said DeGraw. “By standing on the sidelines as the agencies under his purview move forward with a process to let our most precious resource be used for Nestlé’s profit, he’s letting all of us, and even future Oregonians, down.”
Coalition groups who organized the rally include Food & Water Watch, Bark, Sierra Club, Occupy Portland, Oregon AFSCME, Portland Alliance for Democracy, Sisters of the Holy Names and Resources for Health.