You Are Propelling People-Power Victories over Nestlé!
With our climate changing, how we manage our water has never been more important. In a primary election vote, ordinary people in Hood River County, Oregon stepped up and showed us how powerful citizen changemaking can be.
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, stood strong to defend their water.
The people of Hood River County stood up in an incredible way—bringing together small businesses, farmers and orchardists, native people and others to stop Nestlé in its tracks. They formed a group called Local Water Alliance, and that group then authored a ballot initiative that would permanently limit the amount of water that could be bottled in the county. (Not only that, the initiative requires that any companies that extract water for bottling must sell it locally, keeping the water in the watershed.) The Story of Stuff Community made a huge difference for this community, by supporting the creation of an online campaign video, Our Water Our Future. That short movie told the story of what happening in a small community in Oregon, in a voice big enough for the whole world to hear.
Well, guess what? All that hard work paid off. On Tuesday May 17, 2016, the 22,000 citizens of Hood River County passed the initiative with an impressive 68% of the vote.
While the ballot initiative is a big win for the environment, Nestlé didn’t taken this people-powered campaign lying down. Nestlé contributed $105,000 to fight the ballot measure. Even more outrageously, Nestlé tried to illegally hide its contributions to the so-called “Coalition for a Strong Gorge Economy” political action committee (PAC) which opposed the measure. (The PAC 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. But it was the people of Hood River County who won the day.
Best of all? The new initiative will stop roughly 750 million plastic bottles from polluting our waterways…annually! That’s an elimination of 6% of water bottle consumption in the United States. It also sets an important precedent for water protection across the U.S., and builds the strength of our ever-growing movement of concerned people fighting water privatization all over the world. Together, we can work to protect our public resources: our shared heritage.
Our fight against Nestlé isn’t limited to Oregon. We’re also keeping up the pressure on Nestlé in southern California. Our case against the Forest Service over Nestlé’s extraction of water from the San Bernardino National Forest is coming to a head, with a hearing rapidly approaching. That case also represents an important landmark in our efforts to protect public water.
In just a couple 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 in Oregon, are significant because they point to the global high stakes surrounding water worldwide. It’s up to people like us to insist on sustainable protection and management of our increasingly scarce public water—and to defend it from private companies whose driving motive is profit, not people or planet.
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, California and Cascade Locks, Oregon:
You raised the money for short films about each fight, reaching millions of viewers worldwide with their heroic stories; you wrote to decision makers and showed up at public meetings; and you 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.