Guest Opinion on Oregon Live Asks Why Resource Laws Don’t Apply to Water Bottling Companies

A guest opinion on the Oregon Live Web site touches on a host of water bottling issues that are not mentioned by bottlers themselves; what happens when all that waters leaves the state or county it was bottled in?

And why is it resource laws no longer seem to apply once water is put in a bottle?

Protecting Oregon’s water –

The quest for water in the Northwest by Nestle is just one more indication that Oregonians need to step up to the plate and take seriously the stewardship of water in the state. By law, Oregonians own the water. But without a comprehensive state plan and vigilance on the part of citizens, we may soon be faced with an alarming amount of our water going out of state or even out of country.

Few are aware that three of the world’s largest private water bottlers are currently or soon may be taking our water and selling it for as much as 1,500 percent profit.

WalMart bottles artesian water from Cove to sell under its private
label across the country. CocaCola is in the middle of its plant
expansion in Wilsonville, where it will be bottling the Willamette
River as its Dasani brand. And now we may be faced with Nestle, the
Swiss multinational corporation, buying water as a municipal ratepayer
of Cascade Locks, bottling it and shipping it out of state.

It seems that these corporations have found a loophole in Oregon
statutes. ORS 537.810(1) states that “no waters of the state arising
within a basin shall be diverted, impounded or in any manner
appropriated for diversion or use outside the boundaries of that basin
except on the express consent of the Legislative Assembly.” Apparently,
once the water is capped in bottles, it becomes a product rather than a
natural resource.

Nevermind the private corporations and their 20-ounce bottles. What if
out-of-state interests come knocking, fill bladders that hold tens of
thousands of gallons of water and ship them by way of trucks or barges
to places for sale? Will these be considered products and therefore not
prohibited under Oregon law? We’ve heard that communities across the
Columbia River from Cascade Locks in Washington are running out of
water. And we’ve known for years that California has its eye on
Columbia River water.

As The Oregonian reported in 2008, U.S. District Judge Malcolm
Marsh, who has presided over Columbia River salmon disputes for years,
warned that other states might come after the Columbia as global
warming shrinks their water supplies.

“I don’t think those ideas have died,” he said. “I think they’re very, very much in sleep mode right now.”

He warned Northwesterners to settle their differences over fish and
water so they’re unified if other states with more political power come
calling. “You don’t want them to come up here in a situation of chaos,”
he said. “You want them to come up here in a situation of agreement.”

All of this indicates an immediate need for Oregon to draft a
comprehensive plan that addresses priorities and revisits state water
law. Its guiding principle must be to protect and provide clean water,
a human and watershed right, for current and future generations of
Oregonians. Oregon’s water shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder.
Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, Reps. Jefferson Smith and Bob Jenson are to be
commended for starting the work. Now, we must all participate in this
critical conversation.

Nancy Matela is co-host of “The Water Spot” on Cable Metro Community Access Channel 11 in Portland.

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