BlueTriton presents annual report; County staff finds company ‘in compliance’

Chaffee County staff and consultants declared BlueTriton Brands to be “in compliance” with the terms of the company’s 1041 permit during Tuesday’s County Commissioners meeting, based on a review of the 2022 BlueTriton Annual Report.

The annual report is a requirement of the 1041 permit, which allows the bottled-water company to use local groundwater for its Arrowhead brand bottled spring water. The water is piped from Ruby Mountain Spring to Johnson Village; from there, tractor-trailer rigs haul the water to Denver for bottling and distribution.

In his technical report, Gary Thompson, an engineer with W.W. Wheeler and Associates, calls attention to a replacement-water “deficit of 2.2 acre-feet in January 2022.” That shortfall “was more than covered by extra replacement (water) releases during the prior November and December and during the following February.”

According to Thompson, Water Commissioner Will Scott “confirmed that such minor variation in replacement releases was within the latitude that he is comfortable with.”

BlueTriton relies on the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District to release the correct amount of replacement water at the proper time to ensure senior downstream water rights are not injured by diminished river flows.

Thompson also reviewed pumping operations, water rights compliance, groundwater levels, spring discharge, surface flows and water chemistry and found no compliance problems.

Water attorney David Shohet also reviewed the annual report for 17 water-related requirements of the 1041 permit and reported that the company had complied with all of the permit conditions as well as all water permits, in spite of the replacement-water deficit mentioned in Thompson’s report.

Alpine Ecological Resources performed the environmental monitoring required by the 1041 permit and reported reduced vegetation at Bighorn Spring wetlands located upgradient from Ruby Mountain Spring on the BlueTriton property.

One AlpineEco report, included in the BlueTriton report, suggests that irrigation practices further upgradient (to the north) influence the wetland complex and that the reduction in vegetation is likely a result of changing irrigation rates.

AlpineEco recommends a more detailed analysis of existing hydrologic data.

BlueTriton Brands Regional Natural Resource Manager Larry Lawrence presented highlights from the bottled-water company’s annual report.

He reported that BlueTriton had withdrawn 98.29 acre-feet of water from the aquifer in 2022, essentially half of what its county and state permits allow.

Lawrence also said that releases of replacement water from Twin Lakes by the Upper Ark District had exceeded BlueTriton’s water use, resulting in a net gain to the river of 2 acre-feet.

Lawrence emphasized the completion of a 118.85-acre conservation easement in conjunction with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which, he said, will protect habitat for raptors and bighorn sheep as well as provide a buffer for Browns Canyon National Monument.

Lawrence also reported that BlueTriton is donating land to the county to allow for the widening of County Road 300, which is currently limited to one lane at a blind curve at the south end of the company’s property.

Since the road serves as the main entrance to Browns Canyon National Monument, the County has qualified for federal funding to pay for the road improvements.

Public comments were accepted at the end of the presentations, but comments will not be addressed until an official public hearing scheduled for May 2, when members of the public can comment in person or via Zoom. In the meantime, the County is accepting written comments through May 1.

The BlueTriton Annual Report and all County staff and consultant reports can be viewed on the County website.

Joe Stone