Water

Orland, California Group Gets Ready to Ward off Water Bottling Plant

Crystal Geyser is seeking approval for a bottling plant on an industrial-zoned parcel that is bordered on three sides by bucolic agricultural-residential land.

"If you knew there was going to be a machine outside of your house making a whirring noise 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, forever and forever and forever, and you can't turn it off ..."

Dalene Shippelhoute's voice trailed off.

"It just makes me cry," the longtime Orland resident resumed, before breaking into audible sobs, in a recent telephone interview.

"The noise of the chillers is a high-pitched 'whee-ing' -- as opposed to a low-pitched-moan type of a noise," said Shippelhoute of the controversial three-story, 112,000-square-foot Crystal Geyser Water Bottling Co. sparkling-water bottling plant proposed to be located approximately 300 feet from the rural three-acre ranchette she shares with her 72-year-old husband.

"And there's not just one [chiller] -- there'll be three of those. ... I have put everything I have ever worked for into this property, and if we had to try to sell it [after the plant moves in], what do you think we'd get?"

Shippelhoute -- a retired 27-year state of California employee -- is one of a number of Orland residents belonging to the group Save Our Water Resources (SOWR) who attended a Feb. 1 meeting of the Orland City Council to speak on behalf of an appeal they filed objecting to the Orland Technical Advisory Committee's recent approval of Crystal Geyser's proposal. The Calistoga-based company is seeking approval of the bottling plant on County Road 200 in Orland, on an industrial-zoned parcel that is bordered on three sides by bucolic agricultural-residential land.

Other members of SOWR include Angus Saint-Evens, a retired Glenn County Superior Court judge, his wife, Trish, and former Glenn County Supervisor Joanne Overton. A separate appeal by two Orland-area farmers, Matt Vereschagin and Gregory Appel, will be looked at the same evening.

Prominent concerns are the effects of the water-bottling operation on groundwater supply and the movement of a nearby, PCE-contaminated dry-cleaner plume, as well as the potential for high levels of noise from both plant operations and the daily trips of 25 big-rig trucks to and from the plant.

"But my biggest concern is the water," Shippelhoute emphasized.

Shippelhoute said she thinks that the plant -- anticipated to pump more than 52 million gallons (or 160 acre-feet) of water per year from the aquifer on which the town of Orland and its farmers rely -- "would certainly affect groundwater levels."

SOWR members are hoping that the Orland City Council will decide to order an environmental-impact report before any further steps are taken toward construction of the plant, which Crystal Geyser says will provide employment for 20 to 25 Orland-area residents.

No EIR has been ordered in the nearly two-year period since Crystal Geyser -- owned by Japanese conglomerate Otsuka Pharmaceutical -- first held meetings, beginning in April 2008, with the Orland TAC.

A report issued to the TAC by Crystal Geyser on Nov. 30, 2009 -- after members of the public expressed concern after getting wind of the proposed plant last summer -- asserted, among other things, that the project is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review, and thus the need for an EIR, as "there is no credible evidence that the proposed facility would have a significant adverse impact on the environment."

"[T]he only effect of an EIR," the report summed up, "would be to delay jobs coming to Orland for the duration of the EIR process."

Not so, says SOWR member Carol Perkins.

"We want an EIR," insisted Perkins, a graduate student at Chico State studying environmental science with a focus on hydrology. Perkins is also employed as water-resource advocate/consultant for the Butte Environmental Council, in part to keep tabs on the Crystal Geyser situation in Orland.

"An independent EIR would tell us if there's truly a net gain to the community through the opening of this bottling plant," Perkins said. "It would take into account the impact on the environment -- the water, road repairs, safety issues of trucks on the roads, traffic problems, impacts to wells that aren't going to be protected, the noise."

Perkins stressed that there are too many unknowns to proceed further without an EIR. She pointed to an October 2009 TAC meeting at which she said a Crystal Geyser official was asked to address the issue of Crystal Geyser's peak pumping season -- March through August -- occurring at the same time as Orland's peak agricultural-irrigation season, "and he didn't even know when the ag pumping season was, even though he'd been involved [in the project] for one and a half years. I mean, they're coming into an agricultural community, and they didn't even have the forethought to discover what their impact would be.

"They didn't know about the plume either, until Darlene [Shippelhoute] and Angus [Saint-Evens] told them in August [2009]," added Perkins. "I'm not saying that the plume will have an effect -- I'm just saying we haven't done our homework."

Perkins is also concerned about how much water -- in addition to the 52-plus million gallons per year to be bottled -- will be needed to process and rinse the bottles after they have been filled.

Alec Van Ryan, Crystal Geyser's Orland project information officer, acknowledged that "there will be other water [in addition to the 52 million gallons] involved that we will be pumping from the city, for [restrooms], etc.," adding that the extra water will amount to no more than "incidental use of city water in the industry."

As for the 52 million gallons per year, Van Ryan said, "We are such a small draw on the water in that area, compared to wells and farmers. It's equal to 50 acres of almonds -- it's nothing. Plus, there's a process and procedure in place if we draw more. ... We have stringent monitoring standards and an incredibly punitive fine if it goes over. One of our primary concerns is ensuring that we have a long-term sustainable aquifer. ... You don't invest millions of dollars in the area and want to put yourself out of business. It's just not common sense."

Van Ryan flatly denied SOWR's claim that the company's facility in Calistoga is shutting its doors and the assertion that the Orland facility would thus be staffed by transferred employees rather than locals. (His take counters comments from Richard Weklych, Crystal Geyser's vice president of manufacturing, who told the Weekly Calistogan, as reported in its July 23, 2009, issue, that it was too soon to know if the plant's 50 employees would be transferred or laid off.)

Van Ryan added that the Orland TAC "unanimously agreed that no EIR is required."

Orland City Planner Nancy Sailsbery echoed Van Ryan's words.

"Staff has reviewed the project, and we have found that it meets code," said Sailsbery. She also pointed to the number of jobs that the proposed operation will bring to economically strapped Orland, which she said routinely has a high unemployment rate -- "usually double the state's rate."

"Any business that provides jobs is good for the city," Sailsbery said, "as we are in an economic downturn."

Many in the county are taking a big-picture look at the plan, however, as evidenced by the dozens of SOWR signs dotting the pastoral properties along Highway 32 and the road leading to the proposed plant.

"The city [of Orland] is poised to allow the unlimited pumping of the groundwater, because it's forever," said Angus Saint-Evens, whose home sits about a half-mile north of the proposed plant. "They have tentatively agreed to 52 million gallons a year as a cap, but there is no cap on the number of years."

"My main concern is that the water is going to be taken out of the ground, put in bottles and sold all over the world," added Trish Saint-Evens. "It will be shipped out never to be recharged to our groundwater, and once it's gone, it's gone."

Perkins echoed her.

"I think we need to be more concerned about our water resources and where they go," said Perkins. "[The proposed Crystal Geyser project] is taking a public resource and turning it into a boutique, private product.

"This is a water-rights issue," she summed up. "They're giving away water rights, and there is no way to control the amount of water taken. It's a regional issue. We're extracting and exporting our water resource without knowing the impact."

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