Nestle bottled-water war heats up in Arkansas River Valley

A water grab by Swiss food and beverage behemoth Nestle is playing out in the county commissioner’s chambers of rural Chaffee County, which is considering issuing a 1041 permit to allow the siphoning of spring water for Nestle’s Arrowhead bottled water.

Enough water to supply about 700 homes would be pulled from springs in the scenic Arkansas River Basin, one of the most heavily rafted and fished rivers in the United States, and trucked up to Denver for bottling for Nestle’s Arrowhead brand.

Officials from the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District have been battling Nestle’s plan because the Swiss company wants to replace the spring water with water it leased from Aurora, but the Front Range city would retain the right to pull the plug on that deal in the event of a drought.

The water war in south-central Colorado is reminiscent of a similar struggle last fall in Michigan covered by the Colorado Independent’s sister Web site, The Michigan Messenger.

In that case, environmentalists challenged Nestle’s siphoning of Michigan ground water bound for the Great Lakes to make Ice Mountain bottled water. Such diversions weren’t prohibited under the Bush administration’s Great Lakes Compact, which exempted private corporations in the case of small diversions under six gallons.

While the compact does block foreign tankers from filling up with Great Lakes water and sailing back to their drought-stricken homelands, conservationists say the seemingly endless supplies of water in the Great Lakes are in fact being relentlessly drained by countless smaller consumers.

In arid Colorado, where every tiny trickle is potential legal battleground, recreation and tourism interests regularly conflict with the agriculture, energy and home development industries. A group called Chaffee County Citizens for Sustainability has formed in direct response to the Nestle proposal, challenging two newly elected county commissioners to hold to campaign promises to protect the county’s water resources at all costs.