Plans for a Nestle water bottling plant in Cascade Locks continue to move forward, in spite of a voter-approved ballot measure prohibiting such a plant in Hood River County.
In May, 2016, voters in Hood River County passed a measure that banned large water bottling operations, which many thought signaled an end to Nestle's ambitions for the Columbia River Gorge, but despite the vote, the city of Cascade Locks has been quietly moving forward with its plans to secure a share of the spring water that flows from Oxbow Springs, which is coveted by Nestle.
"We're still following what we believe our citizens want and what the city council wants," said Gordon Zimmerman, City Administrator for Cascade Locks.
Oxbow Springs feeds the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Oxbow Fish Hatchery. The agency is currently in the process of trying to exchange some of its spring water for an equal amount of water from Cascade Locks, which draws its drinking water from the same aquifer.
The water exchange process is lengthy, and requires the approval of the Oregon Water Resources Department.
"I still would like to think it could happen. I think most of the community still supports it," said Brad Lorang, a Cascade Locks Port Commissioner who was mayor when talk of Nestle Coming to town first started. "We had an economist do the trickle-down effect of this type of industry, and we're talking about a 23 million dollar a year overall impact to the city."
But Julia DeGraw, a Portland-area representative for Food and Water Watch who helped fuel the push for the ballot measure to block Nestle, said the opposition won't back down either.
"The Hood River County voters have spoken. Almost 70 percent of them decided that they did not want to see commercial water bottling happening anywhere in Hood River County," said DeGraw.
Zimmerman, though, said he doesn't believe the ballot measure would hold up to legal scrutiny, with one of the primary questions being whether a county government has the authority to tell a city government what it can and can't do with its resources.
"The courts have never ruled on one charter overriding another charter. This may be the test case," said Zimmerman.
Complicating things further, Oxbow Springs itself, while inside the Cascade Locks urban growth boundary, is outside city limits.
"You don't have to be an expert to look at a map and see the spring water in question, Oxbow Springs' water, doesn't exist in the city limits of Cascade Locks. That water is solidly on county land, and the laws should apply," said DeGraw.
DeGraw said her organization will continue to oppose any kind of water bottling plant in the Gorge on the principle that water is a common resource that should not be turned into a commodity.
Copyright 2017 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.