Although there’s nothing legally stopping Crystal Geyser from opening the facility now, a company spokesperson said they “continue to assess (their) California business strategy,” so it’s unclear how they plan to use the 145,000 square foot facility after more than six years of delays due to lawsuits and other red tape.

For the Winnemem Wintu people, the Mt. Shasta area has been home for thousands of years, and water to them is not simply a material resource.

“It is a living being,” said the tribe’s Historic Preservation Officer, Mark Miyoshi. The tribe is working with We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review to protect the aquifer from what they believe is potential disaster if Crystal Geyser opens on Ski Village Drive, just outside Mount Shasta’s city limits.

Although there’s nothing legally stopping Crystal Geyser from opening the facility now, a company spokesperson said they “continue to assess (their) California business strategy,” so it’s unclear how they plan to use the 145,000 square foot facility after more than six years of delays due to lawsuits and other red tape.

Two such lawsuits that questioned the validity of Crystal Geyser’s Environmental Impact Report were dismissed in August by the Siskiyou County Superior Court – one against Siskiyou County and another against the city itself. But WATER and the tribe aren’t backing down. Instead, they announced they’re appealing the decision to the appellate court in Sacramento.

In response, Crystal Geyser’s spokesperson said at some point, “we would hope that the plaintiffs will stop claiming they are ‘advocating for thorough environmental review’ when the court has found time and again that the CEQA process was followed to the letter.”

The spokesperson continued, “As before, we are very grateful to the court for finding on the company’s behalf. This is yet another in a series of lawsuits that has been decided for the Crystal Geyser Water Company.”

Crystal Geyser announced their purchase of the former Coca Cola plant in late 2013. Before the purchase, the massive building had been sitting empty for about three years.

At the time, Crystal Geyser representatives said they hoped to open the facility in December of 2014 to bottle Juice Squeeze, sparkling mineral water, Tejava and Metromint products.

When the appellate court hears the appeal, WATER representative Bruce Hillman said the arguments will begin anew, and there are “multiple causes of action” WATER and the Winnemem Wintu believe point to inaccuracies with the company’s Environmental Impact Report.

Specifically, WATER and the tribe point to an inadequate project description and project alternatives, hydrology impacts, emissions and county general plan violations.

The appeal process could take a number of years, said WATER board member Raven Stevens. She admitted it’s a fight that will take “funds and perseverance, which we have.”

If not Crystal Geyser, then what?

Because of their vocal opposition to Crystal Geyser, WATER supporters have often been labeled as “anti-business.” But Stevens said that’s not accurate.

In a perfect world, she envisions the facility as a thriving business involving something sustainable, such as hydroponics or a massive European-style farmers market, where crafters and other businesses come together for an enormous indoor selling space. Another idea is a gateway facility for camping and recreation that can launch onto local trails.

“I’m all for supportive, sustainable business that’s both good for the economy and won’t hurt the environment,” Stevens said. “There are so many possibilities that embrace what we have to share with visitors. Pure water, clean air and a quiet place to walk, hike, bike and regain a sense of being human and connected to the natural world. Whatever goes there, I would like it to fit in with the values of the tribe and our community.”

Miyoshi said the tribe supports eco tourism, outdoor sports and health businesses that have the potental to boost the local economy and quality of life ... “while sustaining the health and integrity of the mountain, its water, wildlife and the natural systems.”

Miyoshi said once Crystal Geyser bottles the water and ships it elsewhere, the water and the money is gone.

Stevens questions how many jobs will actually be produced by the company, and whether the jobs provide a living wage for families.

When asked if there would ever be a time when they’d relent, Stevens said without a solid EIR “and real, binding mitigations to protect neighboring wells from running dry and for the projected air pollution and noise that were disclosed in the EIR, it is very difficult to see how we could allow that to happen to our community. So we remain firm in our stance.”

She said the current EIR puts no limits on how much Crystal Geyser is allowed to pump. Stevens added that the Gateway Neighborhood Association and WATER have been busy over the past six years collecting baseline groundwater data and over the past year, air pollution data with which to compare to measurements taken if Crystal Geyser does begin operations in Mount Shasta.

Mainly WATER and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe is outraged because they believe those who approved the EIR simply went through the motions and rubber stamped it, rather than taking an honest look at the potential impacts.

Hillman said WATER doesn’t want to see Crystal Geyser damage the environment or hurt the people of Siskiyou with a “whitewash” of an EIR.

Tribal concerns

While many arguments against Crystal Geyser involve environmental impacts, the Winnemem Wintu tribe concentrates on a different, though similar concern.

California Assembly Bill 52 was passed in 2014 with the aim to “avoid or minimize (a project’s) impacts on tribal cultural resources.”

“The Sacramento River headwaters at the Mount Shasta City Park is sacred to the Winnemem Wintu,” said Tribal Administrator Luisa Navejas.

It is the location of a historic village site which was the home of Chief Caleen Sisk’s people, Navejas said.

“We still take care of our relatives there,” she said, referring to the spring and its water. “The entire business of adding disinfectants to our pure cold spring water and bottling it in plastic, millions of bottles per day, to sell as the tribe’s sacred water is a dishonor and abusive to all life as it will pollute all water systems including the ocean. It should not happen here or anywhere.”

Miyoshi said the tribe doesn’t often work with non-profits, but they have a special relationship with WATER and the two groups “work well together.”

WATER and the tribe’s attorneys have filed a notice of appeal submission and are waiting for the appellate court’s response.