UAWCD, Salida explore Nestlé approach

Representatives of the City of Salida and the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District had a congenial meeting today as both entities explored the idea of cooperating to address water leasing and augmentation issues raised by the prospect of a Nestlé Waters water harvesting project in Nathrop.

Pat Alderton who is both a UAWCD Board member and Administrator for the Town of Poncha Springs distilled what seemed to be a viewpoint shared by all those present at today’s meeting: “The whole valley will lose if we don’t all work together on this.”

Nestlé Waters has purchased and optioned ranchland near Nathrop, and is proposing to develop Ruby Mountain and Bighorn springs to supply a new bottling facility in Denver.

Nestlé proposes sustainable pumping of up to 200 acre-feet of ground water annually, or approximately 0.3 cubic feet per second (cfs). Scientific and hydrogeologic studies found the average natural spring flow to be about 4 cfs.

Nestlé is exploring options to comply with the state requirement to augment water extracted from the springs. Nestlé has discussed augmentation options with UAWCD and water leasing options with Salida in its quest to fulfill its state-mandated obligation.

In opening statements at today’s meeting, Interim Salida City Manager Mike Copp told the UAWCD that Salida has excess water rights that it views as assets and would like to do something beneficial with those assets.

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Leasing water to Nestlé represents a potentially lucrative financial opportunity for the city. And while the water district may or may not also benefit financially, board member Greg Felt explained that working jointly with Salida on the Nestle project offers UAWCD an opportunity to more efficiently and effectively manage the water to the benefit of Salida, with potential added benefit for Poncha Springs.

UAWCD Manager Terry Scanga explained that UAWCD is in a position to work with Salida to make its excess water more marketable to Nestle, or potentially other interested parties in the future.

Yet if Nestlé can’t secure the necessary water from the city and/or the water district, Scanga said the UAWCD board fears Nestlé could pursue other sources for augmentation, such as buying and drying up a ranch.

“If we can do this proactively, we can maintain control and optimize management of the water resource,” Scanga explained.

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Meanwhile, Nestlé must also apply to Chaffee County for a special use permit that includes review of its compliance with 1041 regulations designed to mitigate environmental impacts from the project.

The next step in the tentative accord will be for both entities to consider formalizing a working relationship to address Nestlé’s water needs at their next regularly scheduled public meetings. The next Salida City Council meeting is September 2. The full UAWCD board next meets on September 11.

Copp suggested that representatives from the City and UAWCD schedule a joint meeting with Nestlé soon after September 11.

Folks from both sides of the table seemed in agreement that the Nestlé project could be a catalyst for how the city and the water district can work together on broader, long-term water issues affecting the Upper Arkansas River Valley.

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