CASCADE LOCKS, Ore. – As the vote that could stop a proposed Nestle bottled water plant in the Columbia River Gorge nears, both sides are nearly tied in the fundraising battle.
Only Hood River County voters can weigh in on Measure 14-55 during the May 17 primary election, but people outside of the community are watching closely, as the measure could set precedence in other regions of the state.
The measure would prevent bottling more than 1,000 gallons of water a day for commercial sale and halt Nestle Waters’ plan to bottle and sell Oxbow Springs water from Cascade Locks.
Proponents of the measure say allowing Nestle to bottle water from Oxbow Springs would threaten fish and a water supply in a region that has experienced drought. Opponents say the Nestle plant would bring jobs and money to the struggling economy.
Background: Groups lobby over bottled water in the Gorge
The Local Water Alliance, which filed the ballot measure petition and supports a “yes” vote, has raised a total of $41,156 in cash contributions from 71 sources. The biggest contributions include $5,200 from former Twitter engineer Alex Payne and $3,000 from the Story of Stuff, a group that produced a video in support of the measure.
“We’ve got tremendous support from the community,” said Local Water Alliance campaign director Aurora del Val. “This is a David and Goliath fight and we’re really fueled by people and volunteers.”
The Coalition for a Strong Gorge Economy, which opposes the measure, has raised $41,924 from 15 sources, according to campaign finance reports. The bulk of that money came from bottled water interests. The campaign received $35,000 from the International Bottled Water Association and $5,000 from the Northwest Bottled Water Association.
“The voters of Hood River County are informed and thoughtful, and won’t take an important and unprecedented vote like this lightly,” said Rebecca Tweed, campaign director for the Coalition for a Strong Gorge Economy.
Related: What's at stake in Cascade Locks
The measure has been a contentious issue in the tiny town of Cascade Locks. At a city council meeting, councilors voted to oppose the measure but according to de Val, 90 supporters showed up at the meeting in support of the measure.
A local report said three people spoke against the ban, while 20 spoke in favor of it.
A documentary in support of the ban from a local filmmaker also debuted this week. Daniel Dronsfeld of DED Media released his film “Oxbow” Sunday.
Nestle has produced its own short film in support of the water bottling plant.
Both Tweed and del Val accused the opposing side of promoting misinformation about the measure to sway voters.
And while both are confident their side will prevail, del Val said she expects it to be a close race.