Just say no: Potential longterm losses should sink Nestle water proposal

nestleThis Tuesday, the Chaffee County Board of Commissioners will begin deliberations on the most controversial land use case in at least the past decade. Nestle Waters North America hopes to extract 65 million gallons of spring water per year from an aquifer in Nathrop, pipe it four miles to a truck loading facility in Johnson Village for a two-hour ride to Denver where the water will be bottled and sold under Nestle’s Arrowhead water brand.

Since the close of public testimony on May 21, the commissioners have been wading through a sea of technical documents, hundreds of hours of, at times, acrimonious public testimony and their own land use regulations as they try to determine whether to give the thumbs up or down to Nestle.

The commissioners’ challenging task is made more daunting since the proposal has been modified so many times with written and oral conditions suggested by both Nestle and county staff and consultants that the proposal currently before the commissioners bears little resemblance to the one originally submitted Nov. 3.

We think there are at least three key issues upon which the commissioners can and should vote no on Nestle.

• Chaffee County doesn’t need bottled water. The first test of a 1041 application is the applicant’s ability to demonstrate need. Chaffee County doesn’t need bottled water . . . yet. The only people who need Chaffee County spring water are Nestle shareholders. Extracting water here will save Nestle money by dramatically reducing transportation expenses. Instead of trucking water from California, it’s just two hours – in good weather and light traffic – between the truck loading station in Johnson Village and the Denver bottling plant. The irony is that Chaffee County could develop a thirst for bottled water in the future if Nestle and it’s augmentation arrangement with the City of Aurora create shortages, especially during times of severe drought, as Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Manager Terry Scanga warns.

• The proposal does not take into account development pressures on the county. The county’s 1041 regulations state that one of the considerations for 1041 designation is “the intensity of current and foreseeable development pressure in the county.” While development pressure has gotten little attention during the Nestle application review process here, the issue is a growing concern statewide and regionally. The state demographer’s office predicts that by 2035, the population here will approach 30,000 (29,515) or 73.7 percent more than today according to US Census Bureau estimates the county’s 2008 population at 16,985. In fact, a 2008 report prepared for the Western Governor’s Association finds “population growth is continuing at an unprecedented rate throughout the West” with ramifications for cities, rural communities and agricultural areas. For this reason and others, one of the many recommendations in the report, entitled “Water Needs and Strategies for a Sustainable Future: Next Steps,” is that water planning and land use planning be better integrated. In 2000, the county’s own comprehensive plan recommended the county work with the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District to create a valley-wide water supply policy but at this time, no such policy exists.

• Project impacts as they relate to climate change impacts on water have not been adequately addressed. The commissioners may reject Nestle’s proposal “if there is not sufficient information concerning any material feature of the proposed project.”

A growing body of scientific evidence has state and federal elected officials racing to find ways to ensure water quantity and quality is sufficient to sustain the future in the arid American West. A 2008 study for the Colorado Water Conservation Board notes increasing temperatures are affecting the state’s water resources. The report points out changes in long-term precipitation and soil moisture can affect groundwater recharge rates; “coupled with demand issues this may mean greater pressures on groundwater resources.”

Just yesterday, at the annual conference of western governors, Colorado’s Bill Ritter said the region needs to do more to protect the water that’s already available. According to an Associated Press story from the conference, Peter Gleick, president of environmental think tank Pacific Institute, said water is connected to the major controversies of the West including urbanization, natural resources and energy development. Gleick also said that climate change – which will alter precipitation and the time of mountain snowmelt – needs to be incorporated into all water management decisions.

Ecologist Delia Malone of Colorado Natural Heritage Program came under fire for recommending exactly such consideration in her review for the county of potential natural resources impacts from the Nestle project. Nestle vehemently objected to numerous findings in Malone’s first draft report in which she devoted a section to climate change including this statement: “Climate trends will alter stream flows and aquifer recharge rendering (Nestle) predictions about pumping sustainability unsupported and inconclusive.”

Nestle consultants argued that “given the current state of knowledge, it seems tenuous and illogical to base project approvals on climatalogical conditions (with considerable uncertainty) to occur many years in the future.”

But Malone, whose draft report had referenced scientific opinions included reference to climate change predictions for Colorado from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fired back saying, “given the current state of knowledge regarding the impact of climate change on water resources in the West, I strongly recommend erring on the side of caution by conserving the water resources that are predicted to be impacted by our changing climate.”

Given the volume of concern over reports pointing to the certainty that climate change will impact to water resources here and throughout the West, we agree with Malone that the county should err on the side of caution.

Nestle has not conclusively demonstrated that benefits accruing to the county from its operations will “outweigh the losses of any natural, agricultural and recreational resources with the county or losses of opportunities to develop such resources,” a basic tenet of the 1041 regulations. Therefore, we urge the commissioners to live up to their campaign promises and other public pronouncements about keeping water in the valley and that green, as in sustainability, is the future for the county, and say no to Nestle.

The Citizen is happy to provide a forum for comments and discussion. Please be civil, truthful, and relevant. Please suggest removal of comments that violate these standards. Real names are appreciated.

5 Responses to “Just say no: Potential longterm losses should sink Nestle water proposal”

  1. Carlo Boyd

    To all like minded People, The every last public hearing and public Comment. The Nestle Proposal Presented was totaly different then the proposal that has been presented all along. I feel there should be another public meeting with public comment on the final proposal so The Citizens of Chaffee County, The People of the State of Colorado, Our niegboring Brothers and Sisters of all the States that share the mountain runoff, and the Global Community know exactly what the County Commisssioners are Voting on. Namaste, Carlo

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  2. Laura Donavan

    Great reporting Lee. I really appreciate the time you put into these articles.

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  3. Jay Gingric h

    Good coverage-Lee Thanks.

    Yes, early in the 1041 review the need for the project was analyzed, as well as alternatives to the project. Obviously, Chaffee County has no great need for bottled water.

    There is an alternative that was not considered seriously. The Nestle bottling plant in Denver can simply buy 65 million gallons of additional Denver water per year, and bottle it as Pure Life brand-as they presently do. (They could not call it spring water.) This would eliminate impacts to wetlands, traffic, pumping water through 5 miles of plastic pipe using 150,000 kilowatt/hours of electricity per year, then trucking it to Denver with over 600,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year.

    Perhaps the most significant part of the last public comment meeting on May 21 was rather late at night when Commissioner Tim Glenn was asking Bruce Lauerman and high $$ water lawyer Steve Sims about the Conservation Easement tossed in at the last minute . Bruce said it would have to meet their business needs, such as more pumping. Steve, without pausing, gave the example of increasing pumping to 300 AF/year. Sims is an elite Colorado “Super Lawyer”. He also does water law for Aurora, who would lease the augmentation water . Lawyers like Sims do not make random statements without basis; they must know their client’s plans to be effective.

    An increase to 300 acre-feet/year would step up the truck traffic from 50 truck trips/day to 75. How about leasing more Aurora water and going to 400 AF/year, yielding a clean number of 100 truck trips/day??

    Nestle says they want to be a “Good Neighbor”. They endlessly label their project "sustainable". Do you really believe this P. R. ?

    So far Nestle has tied up our Board of Commissioners, and planning staff for months with this ever-changing, "lets make a deal" suck-n-truck scheme. Our board and very able planning staff should instead be devoting this time to considering the needs of citizens with long-term strategic planing.

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  4. StopNestleWaters.org

    Excellent article. Let's hope your commissioners review all of the information - including that which suggests Nestle's economic "benefit" to the county is non-existent (or worse).

    Prior history suggests the company simply can't be trusted - something they demonstrated here again when they were caught foisting a grossly overstated economic benefits documents on the county.

    Good luck.

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  5. Darren

    just let them bottle the water and give people around here a chance to work other than for tourist.

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