Nestlé Chaffee County Project: Opposition update

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Here’s an update on the opposition to Nestlé Waters North America’s Chaffee County Project, from R. Scott Rappold writing for the Colorado Springs Gazette. From the article

Tempers have flared and barbs have been traded at three marathon public hearings as county officials wrestle over whether to issue a land-use permit to Nestle Waters North America. The company owns the land and water rights near Nathrop and says it is investing $15 million in its effort to withdraw 65 million gallons a year. It has an agreement with Aurora for that city to release 200 acre-feet a year from an upper reservoir to compensate for the water Nestle would remove from the Arkansas basin.

At the heart of the debate is whether a community benefits when a company takes water from its springs to sell on grocery store shelves. Some communities have fought such efforts – with mixed results – and the conflict in Salida could presage fights elsewhere in Colorado. Nestle has plans to tap springs in three or four more locations in the state. “I think they could buy and dry our valley,” said Vicki Klein, a board member of Chaffee Citizens for Sustainability, a group formed to fight the project. “Two hundred acre-feet might not be a huge amount initially, but where they can go from there is frightening…

Nestle says it will draw 10 percent of the springs’ flow, and the impact to the Arkansas River “will not be measurable, even in low-flow conditions.” The company touts the benefits to the county: temporary construction jobs for the pipeline and related facilities; increased tax revenue for the county; removal of a dilapidated trout hatchery along the Arkansas; and preservation of the area as open space…

At a hearing Wednesday, Terry Scanga, manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, said it could be “very injurious” to the Arkansas basin. Aurora doesn’t take all the water it owns from the mountains, and in a drought that city could draw more to make up for what it releases for Nestle, he said. “I think it’s kind of ironic that an out-of-basin entity would be leasing water to another entity who will be taking it out of the basin,” Scanga said…

It was many newcomers – retirees and others – who want to see the mountain splendor preserved, versus old-timers who say the county needs economic development…

Some of its legal difficulties with host communities, usually small, rural towns, include: a four-year legal battle with Fryeburg, Maine, to build a pumping station; a lawsuit by citizens in McCloud, Calif., who oppose a plan by the company to tap springs and build a bottling plant; and a public outcry in Enumclaw, Wash, about proposed wells and a bottling plant that led Nestle to abandon the plan…

Nestle’s Lauerman said the opposition “has very little to do with the specifics of the project itself, the viability of the project…It’s more people with a distrust for corporations, people who are anti-growth no matter what the project is. It’s people who have a philosophical bent against bottled water,” he said.

Jeanine Zeman, spokeswoman for the opposition group, admits she doesn’t like bottled water. She also believes Nestle has a poor record of working with communities where it sinks wells. With the arguments impassioned on both sides, county commissioners are in no rush to make a decision. The hearing resumes Tuesday.

More coverage from Joe Stone writing for The Mountain Mail:

The public hearing conducted by Chaffee County commissioners will continue at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Salida Steam Plant Theater regarding two separate permit applications by Nestlé Waters. County consultants and staff members will discuss the extent to which new information from Nestlé satisfies 1041 permit application criteria. Commissioners will continue to hear public comments, but only regarding new information and unresolved 1041 permit requirements. Written comments must be received by noon Monday for consideration at the meeting Tuesday, county officials said…

The 1041 permit process requires county commissioners to approve or deny the permit by May 15 unless the applicant requests an extension, Don Reimer, county development director said…

Lauerman’s points included:

• Nestlé modified the project to address local concerns.

• Shallow nature of the wells will eliminate possibility of over-pumping the aquifer.

• The 50,000-acre aquifer recharge area indicates a sustainable source for water harvest.

• Nestlé’s annual 200-acre-foot extraction represents 2 percent of annual aquifer recharge and 1.5 percent of water available in the aquifer.

• In addition to a $500,000 local trust fund, Nestlé would provide educational opportunities and annual contributions of $25,000 to $30,000 to local organizations and events.

• Nestlé has invested more than $2 million in the project and would be investing $15 million in Chaffee County. The investment will take years to recoup at the 6-7 percent company operating profit.

• The project would provide protection for the environment that other types of development cannot offer.

• By collecting water in Chaffee County and bottling it in Denver, the company would reduce trucking by 5 million miles a year.

• A 72-hour pumping test in January revealed no effects to the water table beyond 200 yards.

• Colorado Department of Transportation found no significant traffic concerns when issuing an access permit on U.S. 24/285 at Johnson Village.

• Colorado Division of Wildlife found no significant adverse impacts.

• Colorado Trout Unlimited expressed no concerns.

Here are some comments offered up by John Emerick, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the Colorado School of Mines, Division of Environmental Science and Engineering at Wednesday’s public meeting, from the Salida Citizen.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.

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