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WASHINGTON STATE COMMITTEE FAILS TO PROTECT PUBLIC WATER FROM BOTTLED WATER EXTRACTION
By Suzanne Forcese
Update 4:00 pm
Today – February 28, 2020 the Washington State House Committee on Rural Development Agriculture and Natural Resources failed to approved legislation to prohibit new water rights for the commercial bottled water production.
The bottled water industry lobbied aggressively against the legislation in the State House with multiple officials testifying against it, including a representative of the International Bottled Water Association.
WaterToday spoke with Thomas Meyer, National Climate Organizing Manager, who told us “It’s not over. The bill will be re-introduced in the next session which runs from January 2021 to May 2021.”
Meyer also told us there is one small victory in Lewis County where the County Commissioners voted to deny Crystal Geyser a permit to extract water. “Lewis Water Alliance won that fight.”
“Washington had a chance to lead the country in solving our growing water crisis, and even though our leaders failed us today, the movement to stop corporate water extraction is getting stronger every day. Across the nation, communities are standing up and demanding public control over water sources. Water belongs to the people, not the bottom line of corporate America,” Mary Grant, Campaign Director Food & Water said.
Update 12:00 pm
BATTLING BOTTLED WATER COMPANIES – CITIZENS TAKE ACTION
Sponsored by State Senator Reuven Carlyle, the Washington State Senate voted to approve legislation to ban water withdrawals for commercial water production. The bill would ban new water rights permits for all applications received after January 1, 2019.
The legislation declares that “any use of water for the commercial production of bottled water is deemed to be detrimental to the public welfare and the public interest.” The legislation now moves to the House of Representatives and could be on the Governor’s desk for signing into law as early as the first week in March, 2020.
Senator Carlyle whose schedule in the legislature did not permit an interview with WaterToday, did however provide us with a video recording of a hearing in support of SB 6278 while at the same time praising the citizens and their work in bringing this issue to light.
“I sponsored this bill because I want to shatter the myth of an urban/rural divide when it comes to the most precious commodity of all the life giving water that sustains us,” Senator Carlyle said. “Is it in the public interest to be in the export of water is one part of it; another part of it is how do we wean ourselves from the addiction to plastic; and how do we think more responsibly about the use of water itself?”
WaterToday spoke with Mary Grant, Campaign Director of Public Water For All. “This will be a model for the United States and the World,” Grant told us. “The citizens of Lewis County first approached us and Senator Carlyle then became involved.”
The story begins in a small rural community near Mount Ranier in Chehalis Confederated Tribes, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Quinault Nation Nisqually Tribe, and Yakama Nation territory.
The community of Randle, in Lewis County, is taking a stand against a controversial proposal by Crystal Geyser to extract 400 gallons of water per minute from Randle’s source water. Several residents of the community have already experienced their wells going dry in the past few years of drought and the fear is that Crystal Geyser’s proposal would seriously affect the aquifer, impact the entire community and their already depleted salmon fishing stocks, farming and tourism livelihoods. It would also be of great detriment to the welfare of the Indian Tribes, their salmon fishing and traditional way of life.
Groundwater and surface waters are often connected and when an aquifer is over-pumped, water levels of a connected surface water body can fall and water flows can change.
Large-scale groundwater extraction, such as for water bottling plants, can reduce the availability of local groundwater and surface water sources.
“In fact,” Mary Grant told WT, “In Michigan, the bottled water company Nestle’s pumping of ground water caused water flows in several connected surface waters to fall, and for one local surface water body, the Dead Stream, water levels fell to the point that mud flats developed.”
The citizens of Randle are also concerned about the unscrupulous past record of Crystal Geyser Water Company.
Crystal Geyser Water Company is owned by the $12 Billion Japanese corporation, Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company. On January 9, 2020, Crystal Geyser Roxane, the company behind the bottled water brand, entered a guilty plea to one count of unlawful storage of hazardous waste and one count of unlawful transportation of hazardous material.
The groundwater that Crystal Geyser Roxane sourced from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California contained naturally occurring arsenic, which it filtered out using sand filters. However, instead of properly disposing of the arsenic-contaminated waste, it was put into a manmade pond for 15 years. In 2015, they were notified to destroy the pond.
The arsenic-contaminated wastewater was ultimately transported to a Southern California facility that was not authorized to receive or treat hazardous waste water.
“These guys literally pumped the town’s water out of the ground, contaminated their municipal supply and sold their water back to them in plastic bottles. Please don’t let this happen anywhere in Washington,” Craig Jasmer said in support of the Legislation in the video recording of the hearing provided to WaterToday by Senator Carlyle’s office.
Craig Jasmer, together with a few neighbors, formed the Lewis County Water Alliance which has now grown to over 22,000 members. Jasmer discovered, in leaked emails from the VP of Crystal Geyser, a plan revealing a lawsuit against the local group followed by a planned underground campaign to garner support for their proposal to extract water from their community in Randle.
In a hearing held on February 26, 2020, Thomas Meyer, National Climate Organizing Manager of Food & Water Action, gave testimony in support of the bill on behalf of 43,000 Food & Water Action supporters.
“This Bill will protect the water of all people in Washington State,” Meyer said.
“Extracting local water supplies, putting them back in plastic bottles and shipping them around the country for profit is not in the interest of our state or our planet. Water does not respect local political boundaries, so the decisions of one local jurisdiction to allow a massive water bottling plant could impact the water availability of a neighboring town.”
Food & Water Action group at a hearing in Washington to support SB 6278 to ban bottled water.
February 26, 2020. Photo Courtesy Food & Water Action
Both Mary Grant and Craig Jasmer commented that bottled water companies have a history of preying on small towns, young mothers, and immigrants with false promises of good jobs.
“The reality is that the industry creates very few jobs,” Meyer continues. “And these jobs tend to be dangerous.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 569 bottled water manufacturing sites in the entire country in 2018 each employing an average of 29 people. That year the injury rate for bottled water manufacturing was nearly twice the average of all private sector jobs and 60% higher than the average manufacturing job.
“Any use of water for the commercial production of bottled water is deemed to be detrimental to public welfare and the public interest,” as SB 6278 states appears to have a different interpretation according to the International Bottled Water Association.
WaterToday reached out to IBWA for an interview receiving instead an emailed statement from Jill Culora, Vice President of Communications, whose email states: “A small, yet vocal, group of people is working to remove bottled water from vending machines and store shelves. You can help protect your right and have access to bottled water, a healthy alternative to sugary and high-calorie beverages.”
“WS SB 6278 is based on the false premise that the bottled water industry is harming the environment,” the IBWA statement reads, “Bottled water is the healthiest packaged beverage….has the smallest environmental footprint of all packaged beverages.”
Grant stated the obvious in response to the IBWA statement. “Since most bottled water companies are using filters any homeowner can use a filter on their tap water.” Food & Water Watch provides a guide to safe tap water and water filters on their website.
“In the era of a deepening climate crisis that threatens our clean water resources, it is more important than ever to stop the damaging withdrawals of the bottled water industry,” Mary Grant concludes.
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