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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Business

Dan Springer

Seattle, WA

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Bottled Water War in Oregon

April 12, 2010 - 1:31 PM | by: Dan Springer

Bottled water has become a four-letter word in parts of the environmental community. But in Cascade Locks, Oregon where unemployment is at 18-percent the locals see a real four-letter word–jobs.

Nestle wants to build a $50-million water bottling plant near the Columbia River and take nearly 14 million gallons of water per month from a nearby spring. The plant would create construction jobs and 50 permanent positions making it instantly the city’s biggest employer. The company would also become the city’s biggest taxpayer generating close to $1 million for Cascade Locks.

But the environmental group Food and Water Watch is fighting the plant. Leaders say the bottled water industry is bad for the planet on many levels. In 2008 8.7 billion gallons of bottled water were sold in the U.S. Most of it was originally public water sold to companies like Nestle and then sold for a big profit to consumers.

Food and Water Watch has launched a national campaign called “Take Back the Tap” aimed at getting people to drink tap water instead of H2O out of a bottle. The message hammers away at the bottled water industry pointing out all the oil and water needed to make the bottles. And studies that show only about one-quarter of the bottles produced end up getting recycled.

Nestle and others in the industry say they are responsible stewards of the environment putting millions of dollars back into water projects and leading the research on developing a bio-degradeable bottle. While they don’t discourage people from drinking tap water, company officials say many people refuse to do it and for them it’s either bottled water or a less healthy sugary soda drink.

Complicating matters in Cascade Locks, the spring in question feeds a state-run fish hatchery which raises endangered sockey salmon that are trucked in from Idaho’s Snake River. The city of Cascade Locks would replace the diverted water with some of its well water.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is currently testing the well water to see if it’s suitable for the fish. If it’s determined to be OK the state will likely sign off on the water transfer. That is unless public opposition grows.

Right now almost all of the opposition is coming from environmental groups in Portland and beyond. Cascade Locks city leaders and and an overwhelming majority of residents are currently backing the bottling plant.

They acknowledge that the spring water is a public resource and they believe it can be managed to help the whole community. The tax revenue alone might be enough to allow them to reopen their high school which was shut this year due to lack of tax base. Students are being bussed 25 miles to the closest school.

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