In his Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s annual report released today, Gordon Miller writes, “…Two non-profit non-government organizations, Wellington Water Watchers and the Council of Canadians (the ‘NGOs’), [sought to make] their own submissions on any potential changes to [a water taking] permit. …This case demonstrates the importance of public involvement in appeal processes. Without the submissions of the NGOs it seems unlikely the Tribunal would have rejected the original settlement agreement, since there would have been no one to raise issues relating to the public interest. As a result of their involvement, the Tribunal was asked to carefully consider these aspects, which ultimately led to a stronger, more protective permit.”
The environmental commissioner is referring to our challenge of a Nestle Waters Canada water taking permit for Hillsburgh. The Ontario government originally re-issued a 5-year permit that allowed Nestle to withdrawal water in Hillsburgh but put mandatory restrictions on Nestle to reduce its water takings during times of drought. Nestle appealed these restrictions at the Environmental Review Tribunal. In February 2013, the two groups, with legal representation from Ecojustice, intervened in the case at the Tribunal. Nestle and the Ontario Ministry of Environment decision began negotiating and came up with a settlement that would have effectively removed mandatory restrictions on Nestle’s water takings during droughts.
In the affidavit we submitted that April we made the argument to the Environmental Review Tribunal that in doing so the provincial government had failed in its duty to protect the public trust.
By August, our three groups were celebrating the Tribunal’s ruling that rejected the deal between Nestle and the environment ministry. The Tribunal ruled that the settlement agreement between Nestle and the ministry was not in the public interest and was inconsistent with the Ontario Water Resources Act and that the matter would go to a hearing.
And then on September 17, Nestle announced it was withdrawing its appeal of drought restrictions on its water permit in Hillsburgh!
The backing of Council of Canadians supporters was essential to this win and the Environmental Commissioner’s words of praise today should be shared by all who made our involvement possible.
WIN! Council successfully challenges Nestle permit for water takings during drought conditions (October 8, 2013 blog)
Council and allies challenge Nestle water takings in Ontario (February 25, 2013 blog)