Bottle the Skagit River?
by: Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin: Sandra Spargo Posted on: February 10, 2012
By Sandra Spargo, Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin, The Alliance for Democracy
Editor’s Note: Sandra Spargo, a dedicated citizen, clues us in on a proposed bottled water/food manufacturing plant in Anacortes, Washington as well as the struggle to give the people of Anacortes a say in the decision to deny or approve the proposal. The plant would be the largest of its kind in the United States of America, drawing 5 million gallons of water from the Skagit River per day for forty or more years.
City of Anacortes Pushes Bottling Plant
“Just as forests and fish, clean water is a finite resource. Climate change, population pressure and pollution urgently mandate governments at all levels to manage and share the Skagit River in a sustainable fashion that meets the needs of nature and the economy without compromising future generations.” -Sandra Spargo
On Sept. 12, 2010 the people of Anacortes, Wash. opened their Sunday paper to read “Anacortes, water, bottled?” On Sept. 13, the City of Anacortes approved selling to Tethys Enterprises, Inc., five million gallons of municipal water per day from the Skagit River through 2040, with extensions through 2050.
The ill-proposed one million square foot plant would be the largest bottled water/beverage and food manufacturing plant in the United States. Although citizens personally requested a public hearing before the signing of the contract, Mayor Dean Maxwell turned them down.
According to the Skagit Valley Herald of Sept. 12, Mayor Maxwell stated, “It’s a water agreement, and the council will basically say yes or no. This is a business decision for the council.” The newspaper account also reported that the contract had not been discussed at public meetings, and Mayor Maxwell had worked with council members individually behind closed doors on the contract. Tethys CEO Steve Winter said that he had worked with the city for about five months on details.
On Jan. 15, 2012, Mayor Maxwell stated in the Skagit Valley Herald that his priorities include seeing a new bottling plant that’s been proposed by Tethys Enterprises, Inc.
The Water Belongs to the Public
According to an quote by the Wash. State Dept. of Ecology, “The waters of Washington State collectively belong to the public and cannot be owned by any one individual or group. Instead, individuals or groups may be granted rights to use them. A water right is a legal authorization to use a predefined quantity of public water for a designated purpose. This purpose must qualify as a beneficial use. Beneficial use involves the application of a reasonable quantity of water to a non-wasteful use, such as irrigation, domestic water supply, or power generation, to name a few.”
Is Water a Common Good or a Tradable Commodity?
The commodification of water refers to the process of transforming water from a communal good into a tradable commodity. A tradable commodity can be shipped and sold in another location distant from where it was produced. We object to our drinking water as a tradable commodity, never to return to our Skagit River watershed. To learn more, see Blue Gold: World Water Wars.
At the city council meeting of Sept. 26, 2010, Tethys CEO Winter said that a sustainable, high quality water source is a very important factor for the food and beverage industry. He agreed that Tethys is proposing to supply a substantial portion of the western United States’ requirements. However, he did not define requirements. Logically, Skagit Valley has no farming capacity to supply a substantial portion of the western United States’ food requirements. However, Tethys’ contract for five million gallons of water per day—1 billion 820 million gallons of water per year—can supply a substantial portion of the western United State’s beverage industry, including bottled water and its flavored and enhanced versions.
Video Evidence Challenges Tethys’ Assertion
Tethys CEO Steve Winter asserted to the Anacortes City Council on Sept. 26, 2011, that the proposed plant would not be a water bottling plant. However, previously to the Anacortes contract, Tethys courted the City of Everett for five million gallons of water per day from Spada Lake whose source is the Sultan River. During the courtship, Tethys hired Jason Jenkins to produce a pre-contractual promotional video about Everett’s water supply. The video starred Mayor Ray Stephanson. The Mayor stated that Everett has the capacity to fill the entire bottled water demand for the western U.S., and Everett’s rail and deepwater port give easy and low-cost access to western U. S. and Asian markets. By the way, Anacortes offers rail access and a deepwater port.
Mayor Stephanson turned down Tethys after 15 months of negotiations. Among reasons was Tethys’ refusal to link Everett’s five million gallons of water per day to the collateral of local jobs.
Anacortes Courts Water-Intensive Industry
Anacortes is eager to attract water-intensive industry, since it has the largest and oldest water rights on the Skagit River, second only to tribal rights. Anacortes currently serves 56,000 customers. Major customers include the Shell and Tesoro oil refineries, the City of Oak Harbor, Skagit PUD, La Conner, Naval Air Station Whidbey, the Swinomish Tribal Community, and agricultural users.
Moreover, the Skagit River is a hydroelectric source for the City of Seattle. The Skagit River Hydroelectric Project, owned by Seattle City Light, provides about 25 percent of Seattle’s electrical power. In 2005, Seattle City Light studied the effects of climate change on the Skagit River. In short, “A warming trend could have significant effects on the hydrologic balance of watersheds on which hydropower depends. Model studies indicate that over the next 40 years, projected climate change could require the utility to reconsider its current operating procedures.”
No Long-Term Planning Regarding Climate Change
According to Dr. Nick Bond, climatologist at the University of Washington, “The preponderance of evidence at the present time is that the annual precipitation in the Pacific Northwest is not liable to undergo systematic change, but there will be somewhat drier summers and wetter winters. Moreover, the increase in temperature should mean more runoff (and floods) in winter and a lesser snow pack in spring, with decreased water availability from some watersheds in summer.”
The City of Anacortes projects its water usage in 2029 to be an average of 29 million gallons of water per day (MGD), peaking at 41 MGD. This projection is based on 20-year projections of all current customers. SeeAnacortes City Council minutes. The Tethys contract is viable through 2040 with two, five-year extensions through 2050.
The words climate change appear nowhere in the proposed Anacortes 2011 Water System Plan.
No Tethys Security
In an email dated Sept. 14, 2010, CEO Winter stated, “We now have one of the most critical pieces in place [water] and can move forward aggressively to secure funding, land, perform feasibility studies, secure clients and build out the project.”
Otherwise, the City of Anacortes asked for no contract security in exchange for Tethys’ entitlement to five million gallons of water per day.
According to the Snohomish County Business Journal of Sept. 15, 2010, the Everett plant had been expected to employ 1,000 or more people. Tethys orally promised Anacortes’ 500 jobs in a high tech, automated plant in exchange for the following:
- Plastic Pollution: Our research shows that Tethys will transport 467 tons of plastic inbound per day for plastic labels, shrink wrap and plastic nurdles to manufacture bottles and bottle caps. In addition, 18,000 tons of bottled water (and its flavored and enhanced versions) will leave outbound per day. Please contact us for more information on these details. To learn about the impact of plastic production, see the five-time award-winning documentary .
- Rail Traffic: A public records email from Matt Kelly of Tethys Enterprises states: “Think 400 rail cars a day—four unit trains—may affect access to the Skagit Airport and other businesses on that side of State Route 20.” Four hundred rail cars travel one-way, 800 rail cars roundtrip.
- Future unknowns of the Anacortes wastewater treatment plant: During a group tour of the plant, we were informed that expansion of the wastewater plant is needed if the Tethys contract succeeds. It is publicly unknown from where this funding will come.
Tethys’ Business Failures
Incorporated in Nov. 2008, Tethys is a capital venture corporation that shows no record of accomplishment.
- Tethys’ recently failed the contractual one-year provision to acquire land by Sept. 30, 2011. The City of Anacortes extended the provision to Dec. 1, 2012.
- Tethys failed to renew its Washington State corporate registration that expired on March 1, 2011. After Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin pointed out the failure publicly, Tethys reinstated its corporate registration.
Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin
P.S. from the Editor:
Check out this interview with Sandra by Jodie Buller of the Skagit Valley College Radio station.
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