The Lewis County Board of Commissioners put themselves at the forefront of a much larger conversation Monday when they approved an ordinance to prohibit the extraction of water from Lewis County land for the purposes of bottling.
“It is with tremendous pride that I will share how the great commissioners of Lewis County stood up for what was right and became leaders in the upending of the biggest marketing scam of my lifetime,” said Craig Jasmer, a Randle resident.
The commissioners on Monday lifted a moratorium limiting “certain permits within the rural and resource lands of Lewis County,” per Ordinance 1306 on and moved to approve Ordinance 1315, amending Chapter 17.10 of the Lewis County Code.
The moratorium was enacted in Aug. 2019 in response to Crystal Geyser’s proposed bottling facility on the Cowlitz River near Randle. Lewis County Commissioners Gary Stamper, Edna Fund and Bobby Jackson all voted in favor of the new ordinance.
“The language in (Chapter 17.10) left itself open to a lot of things that we wanted it not to be open to,” Jackson said following the hearing. “Taking water out from any company that wants to take water and sell it someplace else.”
Crystal Geyser was permitted to operate in the proposed location on the Cowlitz River per the former language of the county code. However, the amended language states, “Standalone food or beverage manufacturing does not include the extraction of ground or surface water for bottled water and/or facilities for producing bottled water,” eliminates the possibility of any bottling facilities in Lewis County.
“(Bottling water) was something that was not addressed (in the original code),” Community Development Director Lee Napier said. “(Crystal Geyser), saw it as an opportunity and the community asked us to clarify that opportunity to see if that really was our intent.”
Citizens of Randle attended the commissioners’ weekly business meeting in Chehalis. Members of the community, such as Don Welever, Craig Jasmer, Jasmine Jorgenson and Craig Jones addressed the commissioners in the public testimony portion of the hearing.
Meanwhile in the state Legislature, Senate Bill 6278 passed the Senate by a 28-20 vote on Monday. The bill would ban bottling companies from extracting groundwater.
Prosecuting Attorney for Lewis County Eric Eisenberg opened his statement by crediting the work done by the public.
“It’s called the public participation process in our code for a reason,” Eisenberg said during the hearing. “There was extensive public participation, more than any other project I can recall. That participation had a demonstrable effect on the transmittal that you see before you as well.”
Jackson admitted that early in the process, his concern in amending the county code was centered around the impact it would have on the creation of jobs and the “message it would send” to future businesses looking to do operate in Lewis County.
As he continued to look into the situation with Crystal Geyser, his opinion on the matter changed.
“As we got into the process, I realized that what we were really looking for was responsible businesses that were going to come in and communicate,” Jackson said. “Crystal Geyser never communicated with the county whatsoever, that always troubled me.”
Jasmer drew attention to the fact that Crystal Geyser is being sentenced in California U.S. District Court for hazardous waste violations.
He thanked the Board of County Commissioners for “protecting Lewis County.”
“The millions of dollars in fines that Crystal Geyser will receive today can never repair the damage that’s been done to the communities involved,” Jasmer said.
Next month, Jasmer will be testifying in Washington D.C. for the Committee of Oversight and Reform. He stated they are investigating the “bottled water industry’s privatization of water and the effects on vulnerable communities, like Randle.”
Jorgensen echoed that the initiative doesn’t end with Lewis County, stating that the next step is support of House Bill 6278. The proposed bill concerns “water withdrawals for commercial bottled water production,” in the state of Washington, according to Washington State Legislature.
“I ask that we continue this conversation, reaching out to our elected officials at the state level in support of SB 6278, so that this very heavy burden not be placed on other communities to protect their most precious resource.” Jorgensen said.
According to Jasmer, he feels that Lewis County’s stance against Crystal Geyser could be viewed as the first step in limiting water bottle companies on a larger scale.
“Right now, Lewis County is poised as a leader in this battle,” Jasmer said. “Because of that, Washington state is also poised to be a leader across the nation. I think that’s happening, I was contacted by Washington D.C., they’re investigating the bottled water industry, they see what happened in Randle and what our community did to stand up for what it believed in and they want to hear more about that. It feels great.”