SALIDA – For the third time in as many months, Chaffee County Commissioners on Wednesday delayed a decision on a controversial plan by the world’s largest food and beverage maker to tap springs along the Arkansas River.
Nestle Waters North America, maker of several popular brands of bottled water, wants to take water from springs a few miles south of Johnson Village.
The company draws water from 50 springs around the country, but this would be the first in Colorado. Nestle says it plans to tap several other springs in the state.
Since last fall, Chaffee County commissioners have been wrestling with the project and harsh public reaction to it. On Wednesday, they went over a long list of conditions under which they would approve Nestle’s plan.
But the board, which held a half-dozen marathon public hearings in the spring and has debated it twice in meetings since, again balked at taking a vote on a land-use plan. Commissioners set Aug. 19 for the next meeting, at which county staff will present refined conditions.
The company wants to withdraw 65 million gallons of spring water a year for its Arrowhead brand of bottled water. Many residents view it as a water grab and say it could deplete area water supplies with no economic benefit to the community. Much of the Front Range’s water, including Colorado Springs’ Otero Pump Station and Homestake pipeline, passes through Chaffee County, either in pipelines or in the Arkansas River, and the project has touched a nerve.
The commissioners denied requests by Nestle to delay the discussion and by opponents to reopen public comment.
“We have worked a long time reaching this point where we have these conditions,” said Commissioner Frank Holman, “Even though I believe we need to go through them and ask a number of questions and clarify and perhaps request staff do some more work on them, I, for one, believe we have the input we need.”
Among the 47 conditions are the hiring of local workers, limitations on the number of trucks per day on U.S. Highway 285, requirements for monitoring ground water in the area and stipulations that the city of Aurora, from whom Nestle is buying replacement water, release water upstream from the springs. The wells would have to be shut off in years when extreme drought compels Aurora to lease water from downriver farmers.