Tribal Member Fasts to Protest Oregon Gov. Brown's Nestlé Water Policies

Salem OR — A group of tribal members, citizens from the Columbia River Gorge and throughout the state gathered on the Capitol steps today to support Anna Mae Leonard, a tribal member who launched a five-day fast to protest a planned giveaway of 118 million gallons a year of public water in the Columbia River Gorge to Nestlé Corporation. Leonard and her supporters called on Governor Kate Brown to demand that state agencies to stop the Nestlé water exchange.


Leonard says that Gov. Brown's continued refusal to stop the water deal is especially egregious given that 69 percent of Hood River County voters cast their ballots in May to ban bottled water operations. 

"This should not be a difficult decision for Governor Brown to make," said Leonard. "This would of be a great deal for Nestlé, but it is a terrible deal for tribal members that have treaty rights dating back to 1855 and for everyone who cares about the future of our water security."

A number of Oregon and Washington tribes, as well as individual tribal members, have officially opposed the proposed water transfer saying it would hurt salmon, undermine tribal treaty rights and set a dangerous precedent for privatizing publicly owned water.

Despite the May vote making commercial water bottling illegal in Hood River County, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is pressing ahead with the water exchange application process. ODFW would rely on Nestlé to pay for infrastructure to transport water from Cascade Locks to its nearby Oxbow Fish Hatchery. Food & Water Watch Northwest Organizer Julia DeGraw says local activists have not been able to get clear answers from either the Governor’s office or from the state agencies involved as to why the state is proceeding with the water exchange process now that the bottling plant has been banned.

“I have been told, along with others, by Governor’s office, that the water exchange application is mutually exclusive to opening the bottling plant,” said DeGraw, “Yet the state is relying on Nestle to build its infrastructure. That logic falls apart pretty quickly.”     

Hood River County voters are outraged that the Governor is ignoring their will. Aurora del Val, the director of the Local Water Alliance and a Cascade Locks resident said, “We took this issue to a popular vote in Hood River County due to lack of leadership from the state, especially from the Governor’s office. To see state agencies, proceed with the water exchange despite loud and clear concern about drought and widespread opposition to Nestlé or any other water bottling in Hood River County is disappointing, to say the least.”

Prior to the May election state agencies told local groups that they wanted to keep communication open, but have been unresponsive since.

“This inaction by state leaders to put a final end to Nestlé’s bottling proposal for the Gorge is what brought me to the capitol building for a five-day fast, said Leonard. “The Columbia River fishing Tribes stand the most to lose from the potential deal between the state and Nestlé and when answers from the Governor or state agencies were not forthcoming, I felt compelled to shine a light on this issue that is so important to my people.”

Leonard timed her fast to coincide with protest by the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline. “Just as the federal government did not adequately consult with Tribes regarding massively destructive pipeline infrastructure in North Dakota, the state also failed to adequately consult the Columbia River tribes regarding the Nestle water deal,” she said. “Our people cannot afford to be ignored any longer.”

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