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Pressure builds over bottled water

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In mid-August, after months of public hearings and expert testimony, the county finally gave approval to the project – but attached 44 conditions.

“We still feel that the decision to grant them the permit is not a wise decision,” says John Graham, president of the Chaffee Citizens for Sustainability (CCFS), which has led the opposition against the project. The group is weighing what to do next.

Nestlé is satisfied with the outcome, says Bruce Lauerman, a natural resources manager for the company. “We can, and will, comply with all the conditions.”

So what’s the big deal?

The springs in question are to the middle and east of the Upper Arkansas Valley. Boulders lie strewn about, carried to their current positions more than  10,000 years ago when ice dams blocking the Arkansas River breached, inundating the valley. Water from the spring now collects in clear pools. Trout flit beneath the silvery surface. Rafters occasionally float past on the turbid river, which marks the southern boundary of the property on which the springs are located.

Water seems to abound. Nestlé plans to pump 200 acre-feet per year, or enough water to flood 200 acres with one foot of water. That’s 1 to 2 percent of the aquifer recharge coming from a 50,000-acre watershed to the east, says Mr. Lauerman. “This is a safe, sustainable way to withdraw water. End of story.”

But many say the greater story – about a growing world population of more than 6.5 billion faced with a limited supply of fresh water – is, in fact, just beginning.

Experts not directly involved in the Chaffee County situation point to it as evidence of rising sensitivity to water issues everywhere. They cite a growing number of disagreements between communities and bottled-water firms around the US – in Maine, California, Florida, and Michigan, among other places – as evidence.

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