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Guelph chapter prepares for November 28 City Council vote on water-takings

Guelph chapter activist Lin Grist presents our concerns about water-takings.

The Council of Canadians Guelph chapter will be reading a letter from national chairperson Maude Barlow at a city council debate on water-takings on November 28.

This issue began in early-September when Guelph Ward 2 Councillor James Gordon proposed a motion to have the City of Guelph formally oppose Nestle’s application to the province for a 10-year renewal of its permit to extract 3.6 million litres a day for its bottled water operations in Aberfoyle. We encouraged our Guelph-area members to contact city council to support this motion – which resulted in more than 560 e-mails to councillors. The motion was tabled on September 12 and referred to a September 26 meeting. At that late-September meeting the reference to Nestle was dropped and the motion was adapted to express a more general concern about water-takings not being in the best interest of the city and the watershed.

The motion was then referred to a November 7 city council meeting. Guelph chapter activist Lin Grist presented to the committee of the whole at that time and highlighted our Boycott Nestle campaign and our concerns with bottled water-takings. She stated, “Water is a human right, a commons and a public trust, to be shared, protected, carefully managed and enjoyed by all who live around it. Water should not be a source of profit.” Late that evening, Guelph city council voted 11-0 to allow the amended motion to go forward to a final vote on November 28.

The Guelph Mercury Tribune now reports, “The amended version of [Councillor Gordon’s] motion, which doesn’t specifically mention Nestlé, wasn’t debated at the Nov. 7 meeting. It might not be debated on Nov. 28 either, as the new staff report recommends that the amended motion be ‘withdrawn’ in light of staff recommendations on the issue that council will consider that night.” This situation may have also developed because Ontario has not yet opened the public comment period for Nestle’s application, even though the transnational continues to extract millions of litres of water a day under the terms of a permit that expired on July 31.

Guelph Today further explains, “The City of Guelph has come up with its official stance on water and water-taking policies in the province. The official submission will be sent to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change as it deliberates future water-taking activities in the province. The submission supports a two-year moratorium on water taking, urges the province to use a science and evidence-based approach, focus on community needs and future needs, recognizes climate change in future policy, promote waste reduction and that it take a ‘precautionary’ approach. The submission also asks for cost-recovery support in enforcing and administrating regulations in order to improve the scientific understanding and protection of the resource. The recommendation also asks the province to review just how much water bottlers pay.”

The two-year provincial moratorium would apply to the creation or expansion of bottled water plants, but likely would not apply to the renewal of existing permits.

That said, the City report highlights, “Water bottlers should only be allowed to obtain or maintain permits in locations with abundant, available groundwater that do not compete with municipalities for the same groundwater supply.”

And significantly a previous City report that was released in late-October stated, “[There are] limits to the available groundwater to satisfy Guelph’s future water supply needs. …In the future, there is the potential for the Nestlé taking to constrain municipal water taking in the south end of Guelph, which may result in financial impacts as Guelph looks for other, potentially more remote and expensive water supply options. …As such, future renewals of industrial water takings in the area should be weighed against the broader needs of the community, the potential risk that available supply may not meet future demand and that the continued water takings may not be sustainable without proper management of the resource.”

Commenting on the second City report, Councillor Gordon has noted, “This is the excellent staff report heading to council on the 28th. They’ve done a good job capturing public input. I will be recommending approving this report, with a small amendment for clarity.” And in a blog posted today he wrote, “City water staff prepared a very detailed report. The biggest take-away from this was their calculation, given our future growth predictions, and the risks associated with climate change, that our community water needs may be in conflict with the Nestle Aberfoyle water taking in the future.”

Given the City report to be voted on November 28 highlights that water bottlers should only be allowed to “maintain” permits where there is abundant groundwater and when their water-takings do not conflict with City needs, and given this clearly isn’t the case with respect to Nestle water-takings in the Guelph area, city council passing this report will send an important message to the Government of Ontario as it considers Nestle’s application to renew its previous 5-year permit (which expired almost four months ago) into a 10-year permit.

Barlow’s letter for the November 28 city council meeting – which will be read by Guelph chapter activist Ron East – will highlight our broader analysis on water justice, the human right to water, Canada’s water crisis, and why community interests must come before corporate profits.