The fight against bottled water companies by those in Washington’s rural areas didn’t see a resolution before the end of this year’s legislative session.
SB 6278, which would have effectively banned water bottling companies from withdrawing water in the state, made it to an executive session with the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources on Feb. 28, but no action was taken.
With the legislative session having ended on Thursday, Lewis County Water Alliance co-founder Craig Jasmer said he and other citizens haven’t received any “satisfactory explanation” from members of the committee.
“What we witnessed, in the hearing for that House Committee, was a tremendous amount of lobbyists for the bottled water industry that came in and opposed the bill, with no other great reason other than they want to keep business of bottled water alive,” Jasmer said. “It was disappointing in Olympia. I thought that our representatives on that committee (Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources) were listening during the hearing, were seeing the issues and were going to be leaders in this global issue. But, they chose not to vote and to be silent on their reasons for that.”
Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who serves as the Chair of the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee, sponsored the bill. He issued a statement on the death of the bill from his Twitter account. Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, was also a bill sponsor.
Carlyle was unable to be reached for comment.
“The lethal, mercenary, icy hand of lobbyist bill assassination slaughtered SB 6278 to ban new state permits for commercial bottled water extraction,” Carlyle said via Twitter. “If this was a public initiative it would pass statewide in a voter landslide. Onward!”
Jasmer added that Carlyle called him personally once he was aware that the bill wasn’t voted on in committee.
“He was just livid,” Jasmer said. “He was really upset that the house representatives let that happen.”
The passion displayed by those who spoke on behalf of the bill, most of which were impacted citizens, was admired by Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund on Thursday.
“I always hear in Olympia that they like to hear from the man or woman on the street about their issues,” Fund said. “I’m not picking on lobbyists, but they’re paid to do their job. When people who are not lobbyists come in, it seems like they’re there because the issue’s real important to them, it’s something that’s close to their heart.”
Following the death of SB 6278, Jasmer said the Lewis County Water Alliance is preparing for potential next steps. He mentioned going to the legislature with another bill is an option, but said the Alliance is looking into working with the Washington State Department of Ecology to learn how the bill can be improved.
The Department of Ecology currently has a checklist for obtaining a water rights permit. In order to be issued a permit, according to the checklist, the physical and legal availability of the water can’t be hindered by the proposed use, in addition to the use being deemed beneficial, in the public’s interest and not impairing an existing use.
According to Jasmer, SB 6278 would’ve clarified that extracting Washington’s water for commercial use didn’t serve the public’s interest and thus, wouldn’t be deemed a permissible use.
“What we were trying to bring to light was the fact that, there’s no use, at all, that ecology considers not in the public’s interest,” Jasmer said. “So, that’s not even a four-part test, that’s actually a three-part test. So if we can’t specify a use that’s not in the public’s interest, then why even call it a four-part test.”
With Carlyle’s favorable view of a potential public initiative for the cause, Jasmer said it’s something the Alliance is considering as well. He cited allowing the people to vote, rather than leaving it up to the legislation to enact the policy, as a possible approach.
“Every process that we’ve gone through so far, from getting a moratorium, to meeting with the planning commission, meeting with the county commissioners and getting an ordinance, getting the bill sponsored, going through the bill process in the legislative session, all of that has been our first go-around in learning all of it,” Jasmer said. “This would be the same thing, if we were to try to do a state-wide initiative.”
Jasmer said whatever the Alliance does next is going to be in an attempt to prevent what happened to him and the others in Randle from happening in other small, rural communities.
“We’ve got a really good mix, in our group, of people who are just really upset about that fact that we were threatened (by Crystal Geyser) this way and that there was no protection in place on a state or county level,” Jasmer said. “That got us pretty fired up. The people out in Randle are fighters and they picked the wrong town.
“There’s a crack in the code and it needs to be fixed. Right now, we’re vulnerable with that.”