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17th May 2016
With our climate changing, how we manage our water has never been more important. And today, May 17th, citizen changemakers in Hood River County, Oregon are showing us what’s possible.

For nearly a decade, Nestlé Waters has been attempting to gain access to water from the publicly-owned Oxbow Springs, which it would then bottle in nearby Cascade Locks, a small town in the scenic Columbia River Gorge. But residents of Cascade Locks, and of Hood River County, have stood strong to defend their water, most recently qualifying a county ballot initiative that would place significant restrictions on industrial-scale water bottling, effectively ending Nestlé’s attempted water grab.

The ballot initiative, which voters are considering today could set an important precedent for water protection across the western U.S. Not only would it limit the amount of water that could be bottled in the county, it would also force companies that bottle water to sell it locally, keeping that resource in the watershed.

While the ballot initiative would be a big win for the environment, Nestlé hasn’t taken this citizen powered campaign lying down. Nestlé has contributed $105,000 to fight the ballot measure, which will be voted on by Hood River County’s 22,000 residents. Even more outrageously, Nestlé tried to illegally hide its contributions to the so-called “Strong Gorge Economy” political action committee (PAC) opposing the measure, which is 90% funded by Nestlé. "[Nestlé has] been running the most expensive campaign in the history of our county while not reporting a dime of expenditures until days before the election," said Aurora del Val, campaign director for the Local Water Alliance, the citizens group backing the initiative to protect Hood River County’s water from bottlers like Nestlé.

Nestlé has deep pockets and a track record of subverting government for corporate aims, but the people of Hood River County have stood up in an incredible way—bringing together a coalition of small businesses, farmers and orchardists, native people and others to stop the company in its tracks. The Story of Stuff Community helped counterbalance Nestlé’s influence by supporting the creation of an online campaign video to tell their important story. And today, voters in Hood River County will have their say.

We’re also keeping up the pressure on Nestlé in southern California, where a hearing on our case against the Forest Service over Nestlé’s extraction of water from the San Bernardino National Forest on an expired permit is quickly approaching. That case also represents an important landmark in our efforts to protect public water.

In just a couple of weeks, our lawyers will be in U.S. federal court challenging Nestlé’s removal of millions of gallons of water for its Arrowhead brand of bottled water. Along with our co-plaintiffs Courage Campaign and Center for Biological Diversity, we’ll ask a federal judge to force the U.S. Forest Service to turn off the spigot.

We have high hopes: although the hearing was originally scheduled for last month, the judge issued a delay so that he could consider further information submitted by both us and the Forest Service, an indication he is taking our complaint seriously and is looking for a remedy.

And in a sign we have Nestlé on the run, last week the company challenged the government’s very authority to regulate its operations on public lands. In a last minute ‘friend of the court’ brief Nestlé attempted to submit in our lawsuit against the Forest Service, the corporation claimed that even minimal restrictions on its water removal would “create a problematic precedent nationwide.” Namely, of course, the public’s power to regulate use of our water!

These two community fights, in California and Oregon, are significant because they point to the global high stakes surrounding water today worldwide. It’s up to citizens like us to insist on sustainable protection and management of our increasingly scarce public water resources—and to defend them from private companies primarily driven by their profit margin.

For the past year, Story of Stuff Community members like you have provided an incredible level of visible solidarity to the people of San Bernardino, CA and Cascade Locks, OR:

You raised the money for short films about each fight, reaching millions of viewers worldwide with their heroic stories; you’ve written to decision makers and showed up at public meetings; you’ve helped us place ads, make campaign contributions and organize expert testimony.

In short, you forced a company that prefers to operate under the cover of darkness to face the light of public scrutiny. And now, thanks to recent statements by Nestlé Waters—a multi-billion dollar corporation and the world’s largest water bottler—we know you’re having an impact.

Much of this story remains to be told. But with the support of Community members like you, we think progress is on the horizon.

I’m proud that our Community has stood with the people of Hood River County, OR and San Bernardino, CA over the past nine months. I hope you’ll keep your eyes and ears open for updates over the coming week and will continue to support this work.

If you’re able, please make a contribution today to help us keep fighting this fight.
For public water,

Michael O’Heaney
Executive Director