Critics of proposed Cascade Locks bottled water plant hope for countywide vote

Critics of a plan to build a bottled water plant in Cascade Locks said Monday that they hope to take their case to the voters of Hood River County.

The group Local Water Alliance has filed proposed ballot measures making it illegal to run a commercial water-bottling operation in the county.

Water shouldn't be trucked out of state in a time of drought, said Aurora del Val, a spokeswoman for the group.

"We've been very disappointed with our elected officials, both locally and also with the state," del Val said. "We've asked our governor, Kate Brown, to step in and to stop this and it hasn't worked. So that's why we're taking it to the people and want to have citizens vote on this."

Cascade Locks, with a population of about 1,150, makes up only about 5 percent of Hood River County. That means a countywide ballot measure would be decided by voters outside the city of Cascade Locks.

Nestle Waters, a division of the Swiss food company, hopes to swap water rights with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, giving Nestle access to water from Oxbow Springs.

Cascade Locks City Administrator Gordon Zimmerman said he can't comment on the proposed ballot measure until lawyers have reviewed it. But he said the City Council views the facility as a critical economic boost for the town of 1,150 people.

"The 50 jobs to Cascade Locks is like 25,000 jobs to Portland," Zimmerman said. "That's the kind of magnitude it is for a small community."

Local Water Alliance first proposed the ballot measure earlier this month, but it was rejected for violating a law that says ballot measures must address only one issue, said Kim Kean, chief deputy director in the Hood River County Records and Assessment Department.

The group is challenging that determination in court, but last week it also filed two separate initiatives in case the ruling stands — one banning commercial water bottling, and another banning transportation of water to support bottling. Petitioners will need to collect valid signatures from 497 voters registered in the county, Kean said.

Nestle is reviewing the petition and its implications for the company's plans, said Dave Palais, natural resource manager for Nestle Waters North America.

"From our perspective, water_whether tap, filtered, or in a bottle_is a smart thing to drink," Palais said in a statement. "Bottled water bans remove one of the most healthful beverage choices."