You are hereUSA: MCCLOUD, SISKIYOU COUNTY Bottled water war heats up election

USA: MCCLOUD, SISKIYOU COUNTY Bottled water war heats up election


By karl - Posted on 07 November 2006

Bottled water war heats up election
Pitched battle to control board as former timber town weighs Nestlé's
McCloud River plan 

San Francisco, California (San Francisco Chronicle)

Glen Martin, Chronicle Environment Writer

Sunday, November 5, 2006

The water wars rage unabated here in the northeast corner of California,
where conservationists are fighting the Nestlé Co. over their plans to tap
into a source near what is arguably the state's most pristine large river.

Nestlé, the country's largest bottled water company, could ultimately
extract up to 520 million gallons of water from the McCloud River watershed
each year. The McCloud is unique among California's larger rivers in that
most of its water derives from springs located near the base of Mount Shasta
rather than from rainfall or snowmelt.

Under the plan, the company could also bottle an unlimited amount of
groundwater and would maintain rights to a dam on the McCloud River.

Opponents to the project say it could dry up local aquifers and deplete
Squaw Valley Creek, a trout stream and the McCloud's major tributary. It has
also been contended that Nestlé's deal may not be a sound one financially
for the town.

Nestlé and its supporters counter that the bottling plant, planned for a
250-acre site that once supported the town's main lumber mill, would
establish a sustainable industry in the economically depressed area,
providing much-needed jobs and tax revenue. The impact to local water
supplies would be negligible or nonexistent, according to Nestlé. The future
of the project could be dramatically influenced on Tuesday, when three
members are elected to the five-member McCloud service district board. There
are six candidates running for seats -- three for the Nestlé project and
three against. The two sitting board members not up for re-election support
the project.

David Palais, a natural resources manager for Nestlé, which produces several
brands of bottled water, including Poland Springs, the nation's No. 1 brand,
said the company will monitor the water supply and has plans to prevent
shortages in McCloud, an unincorporated town of fewer than 1,400 residents.

"We're planning to build a $128 million plant here. It's not in our interest
to threaten that investment by depleting our water source," he said.

Opponents sued the company and the local water district for agreeing on a
water delivery plan without first completing required environmental reports.
A Siskiyou County judge ruled against Nestlé and the water district. An
appeals court is expected to hear the case early next year.

Nestlé has since paid the Siskiyou County planning department to prepare an
initial environmental report, which opponents argue is deficient. Curtis
Knight, the northeast manager for California Trout, a wild fishery
conservation group, said more data are needed to ensure that the aquifer and
creek won't be hurt by the water-bottling operation.

And although most of the bottled water will come from excess flows into the
town's water system, some opponents worry about the plan to bore into the
aquifer to collect even more.

"The problem is that this is a fractured aquifer, with cracks running every
which way," said Debra Anderson, chairwoman of the McCloud Watershed
Council, a group opposed to the project. "You really don't know what
large-scale drilling will do. People around here have sunk their wells too
deep and they lost all their water -- it disappeared like it was going down
a bathtub drain."

But Mike Stachner, the general manager for the McCloud Community Service
District, said Nestlé's operation is unlikely to diminish water levels
because of the tremendous amount available.

Stachner also downplayed the threat to the aquifer, an issue of some
sensitivity for Nestlé. In Freyburg, Maine, where the company produces
Poland Springs, residents have claimed the company is depleting the aquifer.

Tom Brennan, Nestlé's northeast water manager, said a city study found the
Freyburg aquifer could be overdrawn if Nestlé and some smaller bottlers took
the full amount of water allowed. The town is now working to adjust demands
on the aquifer, Brennan said.

Freyburg and McCloud have more in common than superb water: Both are in
rural areas with high unemployment. For some McCloud residents, the Nestlé
plant looks like the town's last, best hope.

Resident Zane Mayer said the town hasn't been the same since the lumber mill
closed in 2003.

"When it shut down, everything kind of dissolved. This is a blue-collar
town, and we need blue-collar jobs to thrive," he said. "Right now, my
daughter works at a deli -- minimum wage, no benefits. If she could get a
job at Nestlé paying $10 an hour with benefits, she'd take it in a minute."

Many residents unhappy with the Nestlé plan say they aren't opposed to a
bottling plant.

"I'm not anti-Nestlé," said Richard McFarland, a local businessman. "I'm
pro-McCloud. If Nestlé came to the table with a good plan, I'd support it
completely. But this isn't it. Environmental risks aside, it doesn't make
sense economically. It's a 100-year contract that contains no considerations
for inflation or growth in the value of the (water)."

McFarland is one of the six candidates running in Tuesday's election for the
McCloud service district board.

The race became even more heated last month after 1,000 political flyers for
the anti-Nestlé candidates disappeared, apparently while in the U.S. Postal
Service's possession.

The flyers returned to McCloud on Thursday with an Oct. 31 postmark from
Oakland, two weeks after they were mailed, McFarland said Saturday. Earlier
in the week, postal inspectors were in the towns of Redding, McCloud and
Mount Shasta investigating the incident, he said. The probe continues, but
postal inspectors could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Palais said Nestlé is open to further negotiation on the plant, no matter
who wins Tuesday.

"We'll work with whoever is elected," he said. "We have no intention of
trying to force our will on local residents."

E-mail Glen Martin at glenmartin@sfchronicle.com.

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