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Ruling Puts Cascade Locks One Small Step Closer To Bottling Plant

Cassandra Profita
The Nestle Corporation hopes to bottle water from Oxbow Springs in Cascade Locks, Oregon.

Opponents of a possible water bottling plant in the Columbia Gorge are weighing their options now that a judge has approved a water rights transfer that's key to the plant's existence.

The ruling late last month is mostly an administrative approval that gives the state control over the spring that could eventually feed the bottling plant. The Nestle corporation has eyed the city of Cascade Locks, Oregon, and some other locations in the Columbia Gorge to build the facility.

There are still a number of steps that would have to happen before Nestle turns on the spigot. Cascade Locks City Administrator Gordon Zimmerman said among those steps is making sure the city can proceed even though county voters banned commercial water bottling in May.

"The clarification is required when we do have access to the water, which we don't have now,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman and environmental groups that oppose the plant agree that it could be several more years before Nestle finds out if it can build in Cascade Locks.

Julia DeGraw of the group Food and Water Watch said the ruling by an administrative law judge that gave the go-ahead for the water rights transfer is just one decision in a long series of decisions that would need to occur before Nestle can build. DeGraw said the coalition of environmental groups that filed the lawsuit to stop the transfer has until late December to decide whether to appeal the ruling.

If the ruling stands, the state and the city of Cascade Locks would need to seek separate approval to actually transfer the spring water from state control to city control. That could take more than a year.