Hood River County voters have approved a ban on commercial water bottling, blocking a $50 million bottling plant Nestle wants to build in the Columbia River Gorge.
Early results showed 69 percent of county voters approving a measure that restricts the production and transportation of bottled water to less than 1,000 gallons a day from any Hood River County water source. That would effectively block Nestle's plans to build a plant in Cascade Locks that would bottle more than 100 million gallons of water a year.
Supporters of the measure said they didn't trust Nestle with their local water resources, especially after last year's drought. Native American tribes said the spring water the company was targeting is used in religious ceremonies and shouldn't be sold for profit.
Nestle opponent Aurora Del Val called the victory a "landslide."
"It's pretty exciting that our small community has won this overwhelming victory," she said. "What's thrilling is that Nestle outspent us. This is the most expensive campaign in the history of this county, and with people power the voters have prevailed."
Nestle’s supporters said the company’s project would have brought much-needed jobs and revenue to Cascade Locks while taking just a fraction of the area’s abundant water supplies.
Nestle said the plant would fill a growing demand for bottled water in the Northwest, and a Cascade Locks location will be closer to Portland and Seattle than its other bottling plants in California and British Columbia.
Records show Nestle spent $105,000 to defeat the measure while ballot measure backers raised a little more than $45,000.
Nestle's plans would require the city of Cascade Locks to exchange water rights with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The exchange would allow the city to access up to 225 gallons per minute from Oxbow Springs to sell to Nestle. That's about 5 percent of the state's water right to the springs, but during the dry months it represents about a third of the springs' total flow. The city would replace that water from its municipal source and allow the hatchery to access more water than it would ordinarily have in the summertime.
Nestle would have bottled the Oxbow Spring water and sell it under its Arrowhead brand.
A company official said the results were disappointing.
"While we firmly believe this decision on a county primary ballot is not in the best interest of Cascade Locks, we respect the democratic process," said Dave Palais, Natural Resource Manager for Nestle Waters North America, in a written statement.
Despite their election-night victory, opponents of the Nestle plant said they are expecting a legal challenge seeking to overturn the measure.