By Thomas Fuller
2 October 2016
WEED, California (The New York Times) – The water that gurgles from a spring on the edge of this Northern California logging town is so pristine that for more than a century it has been piped directly to the wooden homes spread across hills and gullies.
To the residents of Weed, which sits in the foothills of Mount Shasta, a snow-capped dormant volcano, the spring water is a blessing during a time of severe and prolonged drought.
To the lumber company that owns the land where the spring is, the water is a business opportunity.
“The city needs to actively look for another source of water,” said Ellen Porter, the director of environmental affairs for Roseburg who led the company’s negotiations with the city. “Roseburg is not in a position to guarantee the availability of that water for a long period of time.”
For the past 50 years, the company charged the city $1 a year for use of water from the Beaughan Spring. As of July, it began charging $97,500 annually. A contract signed this year directs the city to look for alternative sources.
Roseburg has not made public what it plans to do with the water it wants to take back from the city. But it already sells water to Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring, which bottles it in Weed and ships it as far away as Japan. Crystal Geyser is looking to increase its overall supply.
Residents of Weed, including the current mayor and three former mayors, say the water was always intended for municipal and domestic use and should not be sold to the highest bidder.
“The corporate mentality is that they can make more money selling this water to Japan,” said Bob Hall, a former mayor of Weed and currently a member of the City Council. “We were hooked at the hip with this company for years,” he said of the timber company, the largest private employer in the area. “Now, they are taking advantage of people who can’t defend themselves.”
Bottled-water plants have met with resistance and in some cases protests in a number of places across California, including a Nestlé plant last year in Sacramento. In the water-rich towns in the shadow of Mount Shasta, residents have raised concerns over proposed bottling plants that they say could severely diminish local water supplies. [more]