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Lengthy public hearings on whether to extend the 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America, Inc. (NWNA) to draw water from the Ruby Mountain spring in the county continued Thursday, Oct. 22 at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds. The hearings conducted by the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners have absorbed several days this week.

Nestlé  is allowed to pump up to 65 million gallons of spring water per year, and then store it temporarily at their facility in Johnson Village. From there, it is pumped into tanker trucks, driven to a Denver bottling facility where it is bottled as Arrowhead brand spring water for sale across the country.

More than a dozen people made comments at the morning public hearing session, which was continued into the evening, most of them urging the board to reject any extension of the permit.

Commissioner Greg Felt explained to the public that there are limitations on what issues can be considered in deciding whether the 1041 permit is extended. County attorney Jennifer David explained the difference in reviewing standards for the 1041 permit as opposed to standard land use. Colorado 1041 regulations are based on applicant performance standards as adopted by the county of approval.

Dave Blazer, board chair of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation spoke in person saying that since operating in the county, Nestlé has been a “significant community partner with schools, businesses, non-profit organizations and the community at large.”

He said Nestlé has contributed to area school districts, with a $500,000 endowment (covering both districts), as well as contributions of $15,000 to the Chaffee County Community Foundation to aid in the Emergency Response Fund and more.

Commissioner Rusty Granzella asked about the economic impact of Nestlé Waters North America on the community. Blazer said while he didn’t have actual figures on the impact, he felt that Nestlé, like other organizations, has invested in the community.

Joan Reed of Howard spoke against the permit extension, relating her own experiences with drought, wildfire threats, and diminishing water supplies. “…2019 the Decker fire, 2015 the Hayden Pass fire – it is critical now more than ever that our leaders consider climate change when making all decisions. Nestlé has a long history of making false promises to a community and turning our water resources into huge profits. It is clearly in our best interests while facing growth along with the increased risk of drought and wildfires, to protect and preserve our water resources. Please side with your constituents – say no to Nestlé .”

“It defies common sense to support outside extractors to remove one of the scarcest resources in this valley – water,” said John McGowan of Salida. He pointed out that water rights law is so complicated because there is so little water.

“Water is the resource every living thing in our Upper Arkansas Valley ecosystem needs to survive,” he said. That ecosystem is under threat from growth and drought, he added.

McGowan said there is potential for Nestlé Waters North America to sell their operations and brand to a private equity firm. Which would result in business resale at a profit. “Ownership turnover is part of the business model, investing in a community is not part of the business model,” said McGowan. Nestlé wants to protect the value of a business it is selling, he added.

McGowan said from testimony Tuesday, he felt Nestlé did not meet all the requirements of the permit. He said no matter what decision is made, there would be costly legal action as a result. “That’s why I ask that you make the consummate choice, let the permit expire without extension. Biting the bullet now will save us from yet more grief and costs later.”

Executive director of the Story of Stuff Project and a San Francisco Bay area resident Michael O’Heaney spoke.(The organization assists communities fighting Nestlé Waters projects, such as the Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water group here which is opposed to a renewal.) He said the county should ask for a ‘pro forma’ accounting from Nestlé on the economics of the business before considering whether to ask for additional community benefits, should the permit be extended.

O’Heaney said he was surprised how little benefit the community was actually receiving under the agreement, adding that he had a legitimate concern over whether Nestlé might sue the county if the permit was not renewed. “Take a step back and ask yourself, ‘Is that the kind of company you want to be your neighbor for the next ten years?’ one you’re afraid is going to bring the hammer down on you?”

Lori Boydston of Salida, a candidate for Colorado House District 60, spoke against the permit extension on the basis of concern over the ever-increasing effects of plastic pollution and its effects on human health and the environment.

Director of Greater Arkansas River Recreation Association (GARNA) Dominique Naccarato said the GARNA board was concerned with some issues with the original 2009 permit. Concerns included that water is a precious resource and GARNA wants to preserve important sites, recreational opportunities as well as protecting air and water quality and conserving soil water and forestry resources. She said many of those concerns continue with the issue of 1041 permit renewal.

The GARNA board issued a statement against renewal. But the GARNA statement also points out that water mining in Chaffee County is not a responsible use of natural resources, but added it appeared Nestlé has followed the water use regulations in the original permit and the county board may approve the permit renewal.

The GARNA statement said if the permit is renewed, it would like to see some conditions enforced by the county, including shortening the length of the permit to three to five years. It also said a shortened permit offered some protection in case Nestlé sells to another company. Among their suggestions:

  • Monitoring of the permit as a dedicated task for one of the county planning staff, and as suggested by the local chapter of Trout Unlimited,
  • Requiring NWNA to actively pursue implementation of the Closed Loop Fund (CLF) to find solutions to the critical plastic recycling gap and wants demonstrable positive implementation of the CLF objectives on the Ark Valley not later than three years into the renewal.
  • It also agreed with Trout Unlimited that the renewal should consider limiting the consumption of spring water to 50 percent of the allowable pumping of the original permit, the current rate of consumption, along with other conditions.

The GARNA board statement concludes:

“NWNA operations in Chaffee County are complex and far-reaching, affecting the sustainability of the ecosystem of the specific project site and of the greater Arkansas River area as a whole with grave implications for County, state and national single-use plastic waste generation.

We urge the Commissioners to review NWNA permit renewal with an unbiased eye and a long-term vision. If Nestle’s community contribution is incomplete or fails to meet ALL applicable guidelines regarding the impact to vital natural resources with indisputable scientific evidence, NWNA should not be permitted to continue operating in Chaffee County. Our county resilience is at stake – residents, wildlife, and natural environment alike. The decision made by the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners is of utmost importance to the unseen and uncertain future ahead.”

Hearings continued into Thursday evening beginning at 5 p.m.