Chaffee County (CO)

Chaffee County, CO, has turned into the battle that Nestle Waters of North America never expected to fight.

Colorado used to be a problem-free zone for Nestle, and I’m sure they thought their water extraction project – which would remove water from the area and send it by truck to Nestle’s Denver bottling plant – was a gimme.

Yet, like almost every recent Nestle extraction or bottling project, it’s turned out quite the opposite.

The crux of this project is the 1041 permitting process developed by Chaffee County, which states that no water can be removed from the watershed unless several conditions are met, including one that stipulates a positive economic benefit to the area.

Nestle’s original economic analysis showed several benefits, but an independent economist (brought in by the county) slammed the Nestle application, and it seems as if Nestle’s claims of benefits were greatly exaggerated (or nonexistent).

The same was true of their “extensive” environmental impacts report, which an independent consultant said lacked any real baseline data – a recurring theme with Nestle projects (a lack of baseline data offers Nestle Waters plausible deniability when their pumping operations damage a watershed).

It’s typical of Nestle to vastly overstate economic benefits (and the number of jobs going to locals) when it enters a rural community, only this time they got caught.

A group of citizens – alarmed by the project’s impacts, lack of benefits, and potential for both supply and legal issues down the road (especially given Nestle’s demonstrated willingness to sue small communities and ignore the damage caused by its pumping operations) – formed the Chaffee Citizens for Sustainability (CCFS).

Coverage of the project began slowly, but soon, several local, citizen-run journalism efforts joined the party, offering coverage that typically exceeded the local paper in range and depth. (To see their Nestle coverage, click the following links: The Salida Citizen’s Nestle coverage and The Ark Valley Voice ).

StopNestleWaters.org’s has covered the Chaffee County issue almost from the start.

Right now, the projects hangs in the balance; the Chaffee County Commissioners are debating the merits of the project, though many citizens are already questioning why they seem to be bending over backwards to make the project happen when it doesn’t seem to meet the 1041 permit criteria.

With Nestle looking to tap springs all over Colorado, they’ve pulled out all the stops in Chaffee County (an adverse result would set the tone for their other projects), flooding a couple of the meetings with big-dollar consultants and attorneys brought in from Denver.

How this will play out is anyone’s guess. Stay tuned.

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