Pump Station

Nestlé Waters

Arrowhead Spring Waters

65.000.000 gl/year

Denver — In rural Chaffee County, Colorado, one of the world‘s largest beverage companies has discovered water it deems fit for a bottle: clean and crisp, with the mountain spring flavor people are willing to pay for. Nestlé — with 12 U.S. brands of bottled water and almost $4.3 billion in North American sales in 2007 — came calling for Arkansas Valley spring water. Nestlé Waters North America (wants to) tap an aquifer feeding a pair of springs near Salida, southwest of Colorado Springs, and draw 65 million gallons of water per year to bottle and sell under its Arrowhead brand.


Not everyone is happy about this. Buena Vista and Salida have birthed a protest movement that has been more noisy than effective. By some estimates, 80 percent of the roughly 17,000 people in Chaffee County are opposed to this diversion of water. Many mountain residents say Nestlé should go bottle someone else‘s water. The conflict is the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle against the bottled water industry, which has enjoyed strong growth over the last decade thanks to the beverage‘s popularity among consumers who eschew tap water and soft drinks.


chaffee county


buena vista


term vs. profit

for water in chaffee county




Lee Hart

As mentioned in the video the landowner prof. Hagen declared that he didn‘t see any conflict of interest and the University declared that the committee had a different opinion and this has been the reason of the second expert report.


A few residents suggested the county bottle its own water and keep the benefits at home. Several spoke against adding 25 trucks each day to two-lane U.S. 285 between the county

“A lot of us are concerned about water here, and we are in an era where we have changes happening locally and globally that we’ve never seen before.”

– John Graham

Aurora took up the deal which Nestlé failed to convince at the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

Since the Hagens were unable to sell Nestlé sufficient water rights for its purposes, Nestlé had to look elsewhere to augment its source. In Colorado, where water supplies fluctuate wildly with the seasons, water-use permits like the one Nestlé secured force holders to include a plan on how they will replace the water they will extract. In this case, Nestlé failed to convince the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District to lease the company water and so it turned to the city of Aurora, 100 miles away. Aurora took up the deal, agreeing to lease the company 65 million gallons of water per year for 10 years, with an optional 10-year renewal. The first year payment is $160,000. The price rise 5 percent a year. Aurora can cut the deal off in any year that it needs the water for its own purposes.


In Chaffee County, Nestlé‘s research led it several years ago to the Ruby Mountain and Bighorn springs, Lauerman said. Because Nestlé is taking water from the aquifer that otherwise would flow into the Arkansas River, Nestlé intends to replenish the river with water purchased from the Denver-area city of Aurora. The plan, Nestlé officials say, leaves more than enough water. Nestlé will extract less than 10% of the average spring flows, and snowmelt and precipitation will recharge the aquifer, Lauerman said.

and Denver. Many wondered what would happen to the Nestlé-tapped aquifer if a drought like the one in 2002 returned. Several residents of this criticals trumpeted the consultant’s review of Nestlé’s research by Colorado State University ecologist Delia Malone. While Nestlé says the report “is not based on scientific evidence,” Malone’s review contradicts the company’s research by suggesting that water withdrawal during a drought could drain the aquifer and nearby wells could run dry. The report repeatedly criticizes the water bottler for not considering warming climate trends when studying wildlife, wetlands and the long-term ecological health of the aquifer, which catches drainage from the Mosquito Range.

Deal sparked strong opposition

Many consider a drop in the bucket the 65 million gallons of water Nestlé 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. In Salida, the deal has sparked strong opposition from the time it was proposed. Signs cropped up early last year around town as negotiations got underway that read “Stop Nestlé” and “Nest-Leave“. Still, when it came time to issue permits, the three-member Board of County Commissioners was unanimous in approving Nestlé’s plans. In the end, it was probably a combination of fear and Old-West style property rights values that carried the day for Nestlé. Shortly after the last of the land deals surrounding the Nestlé project were completed, John Graham wrote a letter to the local paper. He concludes:

“I think I now understand a little better why a small but influential group of people were pushing so hard for approval of the Nestlé project.”

Commissioner Tim Glenn, the lone Democrat on the board, told a local reporter “Out and out denial of the permit… well you know what would’ve happened… we would have been sued.” Commission Chair Frank Holman, on the other hand, thinks the Nestlé deal is good for the county. “It is a good thing” he said. “The county will get 12 to 15 new full-time truck driver jobs out of this. And those jobs are sorely needed” he said. Holman plays down concerns. He said that most of the

water Nestlé will be draining away would have flowed directly into the Arkansas, so the Aurora augmentation water more than makes up for what will be piped to Johnson Village and poured into trucks. He adds that the deal is now a matter of private property rights. Nestlé now owns the land where the water originates, he said, and the company has leased the augmentation water to replace the water its carting away, so Nestlé is well within its rights. “Nestlé is a good neighbor,” he said. “They are giving us money to help with schools. They are creating a conservation easement on their land. And they are creating river access for fishermen.”

44 conditions needs to meet

Indeed, to help change the anti attidude, Nestlé was working with county residents to start a community foundation. Chaffee County’s permitting process produced a document listing 44 conditions Nestlé had to meet before it was started pumping a drop and that it must continue to meet as pumping continues. 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 Nestlé attempt to hire 100 percent of the drivers from Chaffee County. That was a lure of jobs and tax money, that county officials had not wanted to miss.


Nestlé has spent millions of dollars to move in to neighborhood, more than $4 million for real estate surrounding the operations, around $200,000 a year to lease water from Aurora, which in turn limits residents’ right to water lawns and offers incentives for

“We all tried to impress on the commissioners that Nestlé would agree to the conditions and then ignore them. The oversight issue is very real. Nestlé will probably follow the conditions for a while, but two or three years down the road, who knows?”

– John Graham

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. Nestlé intends to restore the land around
the springs, including an old fishery, to its natural habitat and preserve 100 acres of land, a plan praised by state wildlife officials.


County Development Director Don Reimer, who today (at the time of the approval) issued the notice to proceed, is tasked with monitoring the operation on an ongoing basis to ensure compliance. John Graham and other members of the group “Chaffee Citizens

for Sustainability“ see it critically: “We all tried to impress on the commissioners that Nestlé would agree to the conditions and then ignore them. The oversight issue is very real. Nestlé will probably follow the conditions for a while, but two or three years down the road, who knows?”, said John Graham.

Nestlé – the bad guy or not?

And “it also seems like an unfair fight when a giant multinational corporation picked as its first target in Colorado, a small rural community of limited financial resources, dearth of technical expertise and glaring voids in regulations at the local and state level to definitively protect it against such commercial water grabs. And there’s no question Nestlé can and still may well overpower this community with its vast

resources in order to win any future argument about any aspect of the project.“ writes the blog Stop Nestle Water.

“Bottled water is an in-your-face example of water privatization and commoditization. It is extremely wasteful and energy intensive, but from an environmental point of view it just isn’t that big a deal.”

– Noah Hall

But what balance could be drawn so far? The blog Stop Nestlé Water writes: “... it’s now clear that Nestlé’s initial promises of economic benefits to Chaffee County were at best smoke and mirrors – and at worst, the kind of outright fabrication that has dogged the company’s projects in the past. A sterling example? Nestlé initially claimed their project would generate $80,000 in property tax revenue. The real number? Less than $17,000 annually. It would add $2.4 million in assessed property value, generating more than $18,000 in property taxes for 2010 and more than $500,000 during the next 30 years. Gone completely is the “economic benefit” whereby Nestlé’s trucks would buy diesel in the county, supporting the area with fuel taxes. As a consultant pointed out, the county doesn’t receive direct fuel tax payments.“

more about tap vs. bottled water


more about Arrowhead Spring Water

25 times a day – 120 miles to Denver

The water runs out of a pipeline near Buena Vista and will splash into an empty 8,000-gallon tanker truck. It will take roughly an hour for the truck to fill, and then another truck will take its place. The water will run 24 hours a day, filling approximately 25 trucks each day, every day. The trucks will drive 120 miles to a Nestlé bottling plant in Denver where the water will be used to fill hundreds and thousands and millions of little plastic Arrowhead Springs water bottles, which will then be trucked to convenience markets, grocery stores, movie theaters, and sports palaces around the West. Each month, Nestlé will fill roughly 40.4 million 16.9 ounce bottles with the water from the area’s Nathrop spring. By the end of a year, 65 million gallons of Arkansas Valley water will have been driven to Denver, bottled, driven somewhere else, and sold.

“We are one of the best things that could happen to these springs” said Lauermann. “Our involvement affords a level of protection that other owners and users of this property could never offer.”

– Nestlé hydrogeolist B. Lauermann

Nestlé has promised to replace all the water it takes from the valley and spend $1 million to restore riverside habitat where a dilapidated fishery sits. It has installed 10 monitoring wells to gauge the health of the underground aquifer that supplies the springs and will monitor wetlands near them. Nestlé hydrogeologist Bruce Lauerman calls the plan a “sustainable, surgical extraction” of water and describes preserving the pristine water supply by taking only a fraction of its flows. “We are one of the best things that could happen to these springs” he said.“ Our involvement affords a level of protection that other owners and users of this property could never offer.” Maybe so, say many local.

“Even small groundwater subsides could dry the water layer during a longer period drought. The proposed water abstractions will impair the natural irrigation, which can damage the entire stability of the damp area.“

– Delia Malone, ecologist, extract of the critical review

How is a contract with Nestlé possible, if the area is manifestly unsuitable to extract water? There is an environmental assessment that has investigated the possible effects of pumping down. In this, the expertise expresses great reservations. But the critical report has never been published. Instead, the review commissioned by the county and funded by Nestlé as part of the county’s permitting process is revised and submitted to the decision committee – earlier concerns

completely vanished – published by the same ecologist who had also written the critical review. Lee Hart, a local reporter, writes a blog and is in contact with Delia Malone – the before mentioned ecologist. She says that she is under heavy pressure – but she remains in her misgivings.

“The only thing that has matched the explosion of bottled water consumption is the backlash against it.”

– Noah Hall

Hall teaches law at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan. He has testified before Congress regarding bottled water and has represented environmental groups in Michigan in litigation against Nestlé. Still, in his view, Nestlé is not really the problem. Neither is bottled water per se. He says that when Nestlé taps into a spring, say on the Arkansas River in Colorado, it is just doing what corporations do — seeking to maximize sales and profits.


If there is a problem with bottled water, and he thinks there is, that problem lies more with the United States Food and Drug Administration than it does with any one company. “If I were making policy,” he says, “I would get rid of the designation of spring water on bottled water labels. It doesn’t inform the consumer and it puts tremendous pressure on small vulnerable springs. It would be better for everyone if bottled water was taken from deep acquifers that are not connected to springs.” Hall, who says he has never purchased a bottle of water in his life, says agriculture poses a far bigger threat to worldwide water supplies than does bottled water. Bottled water is seen as the enemy of the environment because „it is very visible and tangible.“.

A small group is profiting

Unsurprisingly, the deal has already generated significant cash for a small group of locals involved in the controversial enterprise and that before a drop of water was extracted. Early to cash in was Frank McMurry, who back in May 2007 sold Nestlé 111 acres for $860,000, even though the land, known as Big Horn Springs, is not being used by Nestlé. The company had originally planned to bottle some water from this site but environmental concerns ultimately convinced the company to withdraw this site from their permit. The company has made a verbal promise to place a conservation easement on the property. McMurry is a former Chaffee County Commissioner, a member of the committee that OKd the Nestlé deal.


In December 2009, Steve Hansen, owner of Gunsmoke Liquor, sold his store and 1.41 acres in Johnson Village to Nestlé for $1,120,000. Nestlé tore down the store to build its loading station, where it will fill trucks bound for Denver. Hansen retains the liquor license and is expected to rebuild. A day after Hansen sold to Nestlé, Harold and Mary Hagen hit the jackpot, selling 11 acres to the company for $2,850,000. The former Hagen property is the site of the springs that Nestlé is tapping – the Ruby Mountain Spring and onetime Hagen Fish Hatchery.


Lee Hart

John Graham at Nestlé‘s Arrowhead fill station

Chaffee County, meeting with John Graham

chaffee county