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Guelph MPP should justify her defence of Nestle water-takings

Guelph MPP Liz Sandals

The Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Guelph says public opposition to Nestle is based on “misinformation”.

The Canadian Press reports that Liz Sandals, who is also a provincial cabinet minister, “says she finds it frustrating that many opponents don’t realize the company agreed to reduce its water takings from the Aberfoyle well because of the drought.”

But the comment by Sandals is misleading.

In her new book Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis, Maude Barlow highlights: “In 2013, Nestle sought and was granted an extension in Hillsburgh well permit to 1.1 million litres a day for five years, but the province placed a condition that in times of drought, the company would have to reduce its water taking. Nestle resisted this restriction and appealed to the environment ministry. The non-profit legal team at Ecojustice took the case to court on behalf of the Council of Canadians and Wellington Water Watchers and won, maintaining some key principles affirming that water in Ontario is a public trust.”

Our Boycott Nestle Declaration – through which 18,448 people have now pledged to boycott Nestle bottled water – says, “In the middle of a severe drought in southern Ontario, bottled water giant Nestlé continues to extract four million litres of groundwater every day from an aquifer near Guelph.”

In early July, the Canadian Press reported, “Farmers are facing smaller crops and higher costs as parts of southern and eastern Ontario suffer through severe drought that is having an impact on fruit and vegetable production.” The drought was severe enough that the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture predicted the apple crop would be 5 to 10 per cent lower than an average year, that pears would be smaller on average because of the dry weather and high temperatures, that carrot yields could be down slightly, that some tomato fields were showing stress prior to July, and that below average yields for broccoli crops could also see some diminished quality.

Nestle’s Hillsburgh well draws 1.1 million litres a day from the Grand River watershed, and its nearby Aberfoyle well draws an additional 3.6 million litres a day.

Overall, The Globe and Mail has reported, “Documents on [the Ontario Ministry of Environment’s] website show Nestle Canada has three permits to take up to 8.3 million litres of water every day for bottling, while Nestlé Waters Canada — a division of Nestle Canada — has a half dozen Ontario permits allowing it to take an additional 12 million litres a day.” Nestle now wants to extract another 1.6 million litres of water a day from the well it purchased in Elora.

NOW Magazine reports, “Nestle says it’s been a good corporate citizen and reduced its water takings this summer by 20 per cent as per regional restrictions.”

There is no doubt there was a drought in southern Ontario this summer, the minister admits that. There is also no doubt that Nestle has fought against restrictions on its ability to extract water during drought conditions, that’s on the public record. And there is also no doubt that Nestle extracts millions of litres of water a day to sell for profit and that it wants to take even more water from the Grand River watershed.

Perhaps the minister could speak to the matter of Nestle having fought against restrictions on its water takings during drought conditions, tell us if she supports Nestle’s application for a ten-year renewal of its water-taking permit in Aberfoyle (its previous permit expired on July 31, but Nestle is allowed to keep pumping groundwater until the Ontario government decides on this application), share with the public her views on whether Nestle should be granted its permit to test water in Elora (the public comment period on this closed last November, but months later no decision has been announced by her government), and, instead of defending a transnational corporation, represent the interests of her constituents who are concerned about water scarcity and the sustainability of their watershed.