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Barlow to challenge Nestle water takings at Guelph public forum, September 22

The Council of Canadians supports the United Nations-recognized human right to water and opposes the commodification of water, including Nestle’s bottled water operations. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will be highlighting this message when she speaks at a public forum in Guelph on September 22.

Nestle currently has two applications in process with the Ontario government: 1) a 10-year renewal of its permit to extract 3.6 million litres of water a day in Aberfoyle from the Grand River watershed; 2) a permit to test water in nearby Elora in advance of bottled water operations that could take 1.6 million litres of water per day. Both have been drawn out processes. The Aberfoyle permit expired on July 31 (but Nestle has continued to pump water under the terms and conditions of the old permit as the ministry reviews its application), and the provincial government’s public comment period on the Elora permit closed on November 15, 2015.

There is municipal opposition to this. As Council of Canadians organizer Mark Calzavara has pointed out in this blog, the Township of Centre Wellington attempted to purchase the Middlebrook well to protect their water source and stop future Nestle water-taking operations in Elora (unfortunately, Nestle bought the well to stop this effort by the township), and now Guelph city councillor James Gordon is calling on the City of Guelph to officially oppose the renewal of the Aberfoyle permit.

The Guelph Mercury reports, “A motion from Gordon, which appears on the agenda for council’s Sept. 12 planning meeting, recommends that the city comment on Nestlé’s permit renewal application through the Ontario Environmental Registry Process by a Sept. 30 deadline. The first-time Ward 2 councillor wants the city’s comments to Ontario’s environment ministry to ‘express council’s concern that the permit to take water is not in the best interest of the City of Guelph and the watershed shared by the City of Guelph’, his notice of motion states.”

Councillor Gordon says, “In these times of drought and climate change, and with the Places to Grow mandate to dramatically increase our city population, which would affect our water needs, we need to exercise the precautionary principle and do everything that we can to protect the sustainability of our watershed and the integrity of our drinking water supply. There is public will for demonstrating as a (City of Guelph) corporation that taking water from our depleting aquifers for profit by companies producing bottled water is no longer appropriate or consistent with provincial policy around conservation and source water protection, nor is it consistent with Guelph’s own policy around bottled water.”

We support this call and have sent this action alert to our Guelph-area members to contact city council to ask for their backing of this notice of motion.

Unfortunately, Guelph mayor Cam Guthrie has commented that Nestle’s water-takings in Aberfoyle “has no effect on the City of Guelph’s current water supply”. He adds, “City staff and residents will have an opportunity to comment on Nestlé’s upcoming application to take water when it is posted on the Ontario Environmental Registry.”

The Ontario provincial government is now feeling some pressure on this issue.

NOW Magazine reports, “After word went viral last week that Nestlé is still bottling millions of litres of Ontario water for mere pennies, Premier Kathleen Wynne admitted conditions around water-taking in the province need some refreshing. …Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray last week called charging Nestlé $3.71 per million litres of water it takes ‘maybe too sweet a deal’. …Nova Scotia charges water bottlers $179 per million litres. That still sounds really low to the consumer paying a buck for a 500 ml bottle, but that’s $175 more than Ontario currently receives per million litres.”

In Quebec, Nestle pays $70 for 1 million litres of water, in British Columbia, the company pays just over a toonie ($2.25) for this amount.

Our position is that an increase in fees charged by a provincial government does not address the fundamental issue of extracting a public resource for corporate profit, the commodification of a human right, or the cumulative impact of the loss of groundwater from a local watershed.

The Council of Canadians has previously raised concerns about Nestle’s water-taking business in Aberfoyle. In 2008, the Council of Canadians Guelph chapter and Wellington Water Watchers campaigned against Nestle and succeeded in at least reducing Nestle’s requested permit (from 5 years to 2 years) and requiring the company to do extensive monitoring on the impact of their water takings. In 2013, the two groups, with legal representation from Ecojustice, successfully fought against an Ontario Ministry of Environment decision to remove conditions that made it mandatory for Nestle to reduce its water takings in Hillsburgh during droughts.

For blogs about Nestle water takings – including updates on related actions by our Guelph and Centre Wellington chapters – please click here.