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The Newest Battle Over a Water Bottling Facility Is Taking Place in the Shadow of Mount St. Helens

Crystal Geyser wants to extract 325,000 gallons of water per day from the Cowlitz River.

The next Pacific Northwest battle over bottled water is 120 miles northeast of Portland, in the Cowlitz River watershed at the base of Mount St. Helens.

The Lewis County Water Alliance, Cowlitz Tribal Council, Columbia Riverkeeper and Eastside Olympia Food Coop on Monday announced opposition to Crystal Geyser's proposal to build a bottled water facility on the Cowlitz River near Randle, Wash.

Crystal Geyser Roxane LLC, a subsidiary of Japan-based Otsuka Pharmaceutical, applied for a permit with Washington's Ecology Water Resources Program in late May. According to the program's spokesperson, Keeley Belva, the company seeks to withdraw up to 325,000 gallons per day.

The Cowlitz Tribe on July 17 unanimously voted to oppose the water bottling facility.

"Water is our first medicine. Our people depended on the river for their food, their transportation, and their livelihood," John O'Brien, a former Tribal Council member, said in a statement. "It is very important to the Cowlitz people."

The tribe, along with a community coalition called the Lewis County Water Alliance and the non-profit Columbia Riverkeeper, also claim a bottled water facility will harm salmon populations.

A local grocery coop, Olympia Food Coop, has stopped selling Crystal Geyser products in protest.

Belva says Crystal Geyser was issued a preliminary permit to test wells and conduct studies at the site it owns on the Cowlitz, in order to provide the department with information needed to assess the water withdrawal application.

"Crystal Geyser has not yet provided the results of the testing (they have three years to do so), nor have they applied for any additional permits," Belva says. "[The Department of Ecology Water Resources Program] is not required to take public comments during the preliminary permit stage."

A spokesperson for Crystal Geyser did not immediately respond to WW's request for comment.

The fight recalls a similar one in Oregon three years ago. In 2016, Hood River County voted to ban a Nestlé bottling plant in the Columbia River Gorge town of Cascade Locks after members of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde went on a five-day hunger strike at the state Capitol.