A group of local residents recently launched a website and is seeking signatures for a petition opposing the extension of the 1041 permit that allows Nestlé Waters North America to pump groundwater in Chaffee County.

The group, organized as Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water LLC, was formed “to educate and communicate with Chaffee County residents who stand in opposition to the renewal of the Nestlé Waters permit,” as stated on its website.

The petition, started by Francie Bomer of Salida, has garnered more than 700 signatures and characterizes Nestlé as a “multinational company with an extensive record of environmental and humanitarian abuses.”

“Basically, I don’t trust Nestlé,” said Salida resident Jennifer Swacina, one of the organizers of the Unbottle group. “We hope the current commissioners will vote for the citizens’ interests rather than for the interests of a multinational corporation.”

Swacina emphasized that the 1041 permit allows the county commissioners the discretion to choose not to renew the permit based on the criteria that “benefits accruing county and citizens outweigh loss of resources or losses of opportunity to develop resources.”

Swacina said conditions were added to Nestlé’s original permit “in an attempt to satisfy that criteria and mitigate the impacts of sucking and trucking water out of the valley.”

She also pointed to “the externalized costs of Nestle’s plastic waste” and said those costs “should be considered losses as the county is currently subsidizing recycling efforts and the landfill is filling up faster than planned.”

Externalized costs are the detrimental effects of business activities to communities and the environment. A local example of externalized costs is the harm caused by toxic emissions from the historic smelting operations of the Ohio-Colorado Smelting and Refining Co. at Smeltertown near Salida.

Externalized costs of plastic pollution have gained increasing attention in recent years, and a 2019 report organized by Break Free From Plastic identifies Nestlé as one of the top three plastic polluters in the world for the second consecutive year.

Nestlé’s request-for-extension letter also raises concerns for Swacina. The letter “spells out that they plan to get their permit quietly renewed, as is, then ask for amendments later,” including “fewer monitoring and reporting requirements when they should instead have more third-party oversight.”

She also pointed to Nestlé’s promise in 2009 to put land into a conservation easement, stating the company is “making last-minute efforts” to live up to that promise “only because the permit expired and is now under public scrutiny.

“If this permit is renewed, the gloves will be off. Nestlé will begin taking the full amount of water permitted. … Truck traffic will increase, and the aquifer level will decrease. The time to deny the permit or at least add some teeth to it is now, and there is no reason it has to be for a 10-year term.”

The Unbottle website includes additional talking points and requests that people join the Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water Facebook group for more information. The Facebook group currently has 270 members.

Additional talking points include:

  • Increases in climate change and plastic pollution since approval of the original permit.
  • Nestlé’s failure to meet the permit’s local jobs requirement.
  • A land swap that allows for riverfront development near Browns Canyon National Monument.
  • The likelihood that water extraction and truck traffic will more than double in coming years.
  • The absence of philanthropy in Nestlé’s donations to local schools, which are a requirement of the permit.
  • Legally required replacement water bypassing the aquifer where Nestlé withdraws water.
  • The low tax rate on Nestle’s land, which is zoned agricultural.
  • Nestlé’s “global reputation of humanitarian and environmental abuses, including child labor, unethical promotion, manipulating uneducated mothers, pollution, price fixing and mislabeling.”

The permit extension hearing is currently scheduled for 12:30 p.m. April 21 at the Buena Vista Community Center, but the county commissioners will consider postponing the hearing when they meet April 7.