Conservancy: Another threat to Roaring Fork watershed
BASALT – A plan by a subsidiary of Nestle to bottle water near Buena Vista could have implications for the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers, the Roaring Fork Conservancy warned this week.
It also signals that the beverage industry is on the prowl for high mountain spring sites in Colorado’s mountains – another potential threat to limited water supply of the Roaring Fork watershed, said Tim O’Keefe, education director for the Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit focused on water quality and quantity issues.
“We’re trying to use what’s happening in [Buena Vista] to sound the alarm,” O’Keefe said.
The connection between the Nestle bottling plan and Roaring Fork water epitomizes the complexity of water rights in Colorado.
Nestle Waters North America Inc. plans to suck 65 million gallons annually from two springs located along the Arkansas River north of Buena Vista. The liquid will be piped 5 miles to a loading station, then trucked to a bottling plant in the Denver area.
Since the springs feed water directly to the Arkansas River, Nestle is required to augment the flows to replace the water it removes. That’s where the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan enter the picture.
Nestle signed a 10-year lease with the city of Aurora to provide the water needed to augment the Arkansas River. It’s “sweet money” for the city because Nestle is willing to pay $800 per acre foot, or three to four times more than what Aurora pays for the water, O’Keefe said.
Aurora has a lot of sources of water in its portfolio to tap for the augmentation, including diversions from the upper Roaring Fork and the upper Fryingpan, according to a position paper prepared by the conservancy.
Aurora diverts water from Grizzly Reservoir, about 10 miles east of Aspen. That water is piped via the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion Project to the east side of the Continental Divide, dumped into Lake Creek and stored in Twin Lakes Reservoir.
Aurora also diverts water from the upper Fryingpan basin through the Busk-Ivanhoe Project to Turquoise Reservoir, which also feeds Twin Lakes.
Numerous documents tied to the Nestle plan indicate that Twin Lakes is among the sources Aurora can use to sell water to Nestle to augment the Arkansas River, according to G. Moss Driscoll, an attorney who recently interned with the Roaring Fork Conservancy and helped with the position paper on bottled water.
“There’s no doubt it will involve transbasin water,” Driscoll said.
But Aurora’s legal ability to use diverted water doesn’t mean it will actually be used for augmentation, said Greg Baker, manager of public relations for Aurora Water.
“It wouldn’t make sense to use them for this purpose,” he said.
The water Aurora stores in Twin Lakes is piped directly to the Otero pumping station on the Arkansas River, then it is piped to the Front Range. Once the water is in a pipeline it is best to keep it there rather than “spill it,” Baker said. That reduces water lost in transit.
The city intends to use water purchased from Lake County ranches and the Columbine Ditch to feed the Arkansas River directly and fulfill its augmentation contract.
Water from Twin Lakes is listed as a possible source for augmentation, but is unlikely to be used, Baker said. Even if it is, very little comes from the upper Fryingpan and Roaring Fork drainages. The vast majority of Aurora’s water diverted from the mountains comes from Homestake Reservoir, another source that leads to Twin Lakes.
In a strict accounting sense, some Roaring Fork water could be used to augment the Arkansas River, Baker said, but it would be a rare occasion and a small amount.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy counters that Nestle’s bottling scheme is just another way, however small, that the Roaring Fork watershed is being tapped.
“The two springs Nestle is proposing to draw water from are fed directly by the Arkansas River, the flows of which are bolstered by transmountain diversions from the Roaring Fork Watershed,” the conservancy’s paper said. “On average each year, 37 percent of the runoff in the Upper Roaring Fork Subwatershed and 41 percent of the runoff in the Upper Fryingpan Subwatershed is diverted to the Arkansas River Basin.”
The conservancy is sponsoring the screening of a film called “Tapped” to educate people about the broader issues surrounding bottled water. The documentary is a “behind-the-scenes look into the unregulated and unseen world” of an industry that is trying to turn water into a commodity. It’s from the producers of “Who Killed the Electric Car” and “I.O.U.S.A.”
The movie will be shown at 7 p.m. March 31 at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen and 7 p.m. April 6 at the Church at Carbondale. Tickets are $9.
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