State approves next step for Nestle water bottling plant in Gorge, despite county vote

SALEM, Ore. – A water transfer was approved Friday, getting the city of Cascade Locks closer to being able to sell spring water to Nestle, despite a county vote against the water bottling plant. 

At the crux of the city's plan to sell spring water to Nestle is getting a water swap between the city and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife approved.

Nestle wants spring water, specifically from the pristine Oxbow Springs. It’s in Cascade Locks but the water rights are owned by ODFW. Cascade Locks owns the water rights to nearby Little Herman Creek, which is fed by Oxbow Springs but not technically spring water. 

"[Nestle] makes a premium dollar for their marketing of spring water," said Cascade Locks City Administrator Gordon Zimmerman. 

ODFW is not going to sell its water rights to Oxbow Springs, but it has said it may exchange water instead.

Before the exchange happens, ODFW had to get a water transfer approved by the Oregon Water Resources Department.

On Friday, Oct. 29, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife got its Oxbow Springs water right transfer approved.  

The transfer added two points of diversion, to clarify where ODFW can pull its water from. It also split the water right from one right for 10 cubic feet per second to two water rights, one for 9.5 and one for 0.5 feet per second. The 0.5 cubic feet per second water right is the one that could be involved in the Nestle bottling plant. 

ODFW said the transfer improves how they raise salmon at the Oxbow Springs fish hatchery. It also means a water exchange with Cascade Locks would be possible. 

A 60-day appeal period is now open. Environmental advocacy groups are considering filing an appeal.  

After that, the city of Cascade Locks and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife need to officially agree to exchange Herman Creek and Oxbow Springs water, in order for the city to sell Oxbow Springs water to Nestle. 

That step also needs to be approved by the Oregon Water Resources Department. 

Approval for water transfer  

This means the road to selling Oxbow Springs water to Nestle is nearly paved, but the city isn't going to be able to sell Nestle water anytime soon.

"That's four or five steps down the road," said Zimmerman. "It could be two, three, four years."

But the process is moving forward as planned. The biggest roadblock now is the county vote that happened earlier this year.  

Opponents tried to stop Nestle from moving forward with a ballot measure in May, by banning commercial bottling plants in Hood River County. The measure passed but it’s not ironclad.

More: Cascade Locks considers action after vote 

After the May vote, Zimmerman told KGW the council was considering “a range of options,” including legal action.

“There’s some legal precedent for county charters not being able to override city charters,” he said.

Nestle also said it had not abandoned the plan for a Cascade Locks water bottling plant.

Nestle may also be looking elsewhere in the gorge. The Goldendale Sentinel reports that Nestle is pitching a bottling plant in Goldendale, Wash., at the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge. A water bottling plant could pull from Bloodgood Springs there.


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