An economic report commissioned by BlueTriton Brands, formerly Nestlé Waters North America, indicates the company’s Chaffee County bottled-water operations produce local economic benefits of more than $1 million per year.
Doug Jeavons with BBC Research and Consulting presented the report at the most recent Chaffee County Commissioners meeting as part of the ongoing 1041 permit process. As a managing director, Jeavons specializes in economic assessments related to water, natural-resource and environmental issues.
Jeavons said the BBC report agreed with many of the findings of the Harvey Economics report, which was commissioned by the County Commissioners.
The BBC’s main challenge to the Harvey Economics report involves the assertion that BlueTriton’s water use carries an “opportunity cost.”
Jeavons defined “opportunity cost” as what you give up to get something else. In this case, BBC finds no opportunity cost associated with BlueTriton’s use of local spring water because the use of that water does not limit the amount of water available for other economic activities.
Jeavons reported that the actual cost to the county from Blue Triton’s operations is “around $30,000 per year, which is offset by property taxes and direct reimbursement of County costs.”
The BBC report concludes, “There is a clear net economic benefit from (BlueTriton’s Ruby Mountain Springs Operation). The economic benefits and costs of RMSO are not ‘roughly similar’ as stated at the end of the HE report.”
Those economic benefits include the “small but positive effects on Chaffee County recreation and tourism,” according to the BBC report.
The “bottom line,” Jeavons said, is that denying the 1041 permit extension “is not going to limit economic growth or stimulate some other (new) economic development in the county.”
He cited the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District’s annual augmentation capacity of 1,750 acre-feet, 910 acre-feet more than the District’s current augmentation commitments, which total 840 acre-feet per year.
Jeavons said the most aggressive growth projections for Chaffee County show a potential need for as much as 960 acre-feet of additional augmentation water in 30 years.
District General Manager Terry Scanga said the District currently has 2,000 acre-feet of “renewable water” available in storge and that the District regularly stores as much as 5,000 acre-feet per year to ensure sufficient backup supply.
Scanga said the Upper Ark District “brought new water into the district” to augment Nestlé’s operations and pointed out that, if BlueTriton were denied the 1041 permit, “it doesn’t mean that the water would be available to Chaffee County.”
Steve Sims, water attorney for BlueTriton, said the Upper Ark District leases water from Pueblo, then leases that water to BlueTriton. “The (BlueTriton) wells don’t have a water right. … This only works because Upper Ark is augmenting.”
The Commissioners continued the 1041 hearing to 1 p.m. June 1, when representatives from opposition group Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water will present comments about the two economic reports and the Nestlé Waters 2020 annual report.
Members of the public will also have an opportunity to comment on the reports at the June 1 meeting, but the deadline to submit written comments to the County is 5 p.m. Thursday, May 27.
BlueTriton representatives will be allowed to make closing remarks at the June 15 County Commissioners meeting, and the Commissioners plan to begin deliberations June 15.