Nestle OK’d to turn Arkansas River springs into bottled water product

Chaffee County Tuesday afternoon issued a notice to Nestle that it could proceed with its plan to pump millions of gallons of water from springs next to the Arkansas River and cart it to Denver for bottling under the Arrowhead Springs label.

Nestle spent years negotiating with the Chaffee Board of Commissioners where water lives, buying land around the water, negotiating with the Aurora City Council for its lease to the water, fighting off protesters and finally constructing pipelines and a pumping station in Johnson Village near Buena Vista.

This evening, Nestle can turn the spigot and begin filling its fleet of twenty-five 8,000 gallon trucks each day.

Many consider a drop in the bucket the 65 million gallons of water Nestle has the rights to bottle and sell every year, at least in terms of the impact on the Arkansas River and its aquifers.

Others look at it differently. The deal has riled up local environmentalists who cringe at the very idea of siphoning off the precious cargo to pour into environment-straining plastic bottles and burning up gasoline to ship it throughout the West.

John Graham, president of one of the local advocacy groups opposed to Nestle, shakes his head at the very idea. He says water as clean as the water Nestle is bottling is available to almost everyone with a tap for a fraction of the price and with none of the environmental impact of an operation that will log more than 6,000 miles a day at least on the road between Johnson Village and Denver.

In fact, the deal has raised eyebrows all across the country, with the Christian Science Monitor and other national publications sending reporters to Buena Vista.

“Citing myriad concerns, a group of residents has objected vigorously,” reported the Monitor in October, 2009. “They worry about impacts to the watershed and to nearby wetlands. They say that climate change, predicted to further dry Colorado and the Southwest, warrants a precautionary approach to all things water-related. And, pointing to fights other communities have had with the company, they say they simply don’t want Nestle as a neighbor.”

Nestle has spent millions of dollars to move in to neighborhood, more than $4 million for real estate surrounding the operations, $160,000 a year (the amount goes up each year from that base) to lease water from Aurora, which in turn limits residents’ right to water lawns and offers incentives for low-water use xeriscaping. The company also agreed to pay a lump sum of $500,000 to schools in Buena Vista and Salida and has promised annual contributions as well.

Chaffee county’s permitting process produced a document listing 44 conditions Nestle had to meet before it pumped a drop and that it must continue to meet as pumping continues.

County Development Director Don Reimer, who today issued the notice to proceed, is tasked with monitoring the operation on an ongoing basis to ensure compliance.

Conditions include such things as monitoring the condition of wetlands and groundwater to ensure that the pumping operation does not have a negative effect. It also includes a stipulation that at least half the truck drivers have primary residency in Chaffee County and that Nestle attempt to hire 100 percent of the drivers from Chaffee County.

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