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Nestlé continues to stir community opposition in the Great Lakes Basin

Nestlé Waters is moving forward with its plans to buy a new well in Elora, Ontario, situated in the Great Lakes Basin. The well is currently owned by Middle Brook Water Co. (registered as 1445036 Ontario Inc.). Middle Brook’s current permit allows it to withdraw 1.6 million litres of groundwater per day from the Elora well and expires October 31, 2015.

(Photo of the Elora Quarry and the large beach,CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Grand River Conservation Authority)

In April, the Wellington Advertiser reported that “Nestlé would use the production well as a back-up or supplementary source to its main production well in Aberfoyle.”

Nestlé Waters will be hosting an open house on Wednesday, August 5th about its acquisition of Middlebrook Water Co.

Some residents strongly oppose Nestlé’s takeover of the Middle Brook permit including local group Save Our Water.

Libby Carlaw, a spokesperson with Friends of Elora Water told the Guelph Mercury, “”It’s David versus Goliath…We’re a pretty small town and the best we can do is try and be as educated and informed as possible and help others be educated and informed.”

Carlaw added, “[T]his isn’t about Nestlé Waters, because “Nestlé will not be the only company knocking at our door looking for water. More will come. We want as many people as possible to be as informed as possible, so we’re hoping for a big turnout on Wednesday.”

“’Ideally,’ said Carlaw, ‘Friends of Elora Water would like to see the province deny a renewal of the pumping permit.’”

Earlier this year, the Wellington Advertiser noted that the acquisition is “subject to confirmation that groundwater there meets [Nestlé’s] quality and quantity requirements and that the existing production permit will be renewed later this year by Ontario Ministry of Environment.”

Nestlé already pumps water from wells in Hillsburgh and Aberfoyle, two communities surrounded by three of the five Great Lakes in southern Ontario. Two years ago, Nestlé appealed the Ontario government’s decision to include drought restrictions on the Hillsburgh permit. However, Nestlé backed down after the Wellington Water Watchers and Council of Canadians represented by Ecojustice challenged the multi-billion dollar company on its attempt to have drought restrictions dropped from the five year permit. Nestlé’s Aberfoyle permit will expire on July 31, 2016.

Nestlé also withdraws 265 million litres every year in Hope, BC. The BC government kicked off a firestorm of opposition when it released new water rates that would have Nestlé paying only $2.25 per million litres starting in January when the new Water Sustainability Act comes into force. What’s worse is the act uses the ‘first in time first in right’ (FITFIR) system which prioritizes water permits by the date they are issued. In other words, if fracking, mining or bottled water companies like Nestlé get earlier permits  than municipalities, small scale farmers or other community water users, we could see a scenario where the former permits are honored while the latter water users are told they can’t draw water.

BC water permits will be for an indefinite period of time while the water permits for bottled water withdrawals in Ontario range from one to ten years.  More information can be found on the water permits in Ontario here.

Lengthy water permits can create a risk regarding NAFTA, the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement or other trade agreements. If the B.C. or Ontario government has to revoke any of these permits down the road because of increased drought conditions, these companies could launch a trade challenge and sue for compensation.

Water is a commons to be shared, protected, carefully managed and enjoyed by all who live around them, as Maude Barlow has explained. Surface and ground water should be declared a public trust which will require the government to protect water for a community’s reasonable use. Under a public trust doctrine, private water use would be subservient to the public interest. Water could not be appropriated or subordinated for private gain.

In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly confirmed the Human Right to Water and Sanitation. This internationally binding resolution must be recognized at every level of government. The recognition of water as a human right gives communities lacking access to clean drinking water a legal tool to exercise this right. It also provides legal recourse if a water source is damaged by industrial activities.

Parts of BC are experiencing historic levels of drought. There were six major droughts in southern Ontario since 1998 and in 2012, the first six months of the year were the driest since 1958. Maude Barlow has called for a new water ethic to address the current global water crisis.

Nestlé’s application to renew its Aberfoyle permit and Middle Brook’s application to renew its Elora permit will be posted on the Ontario Environmental Registry. Members of the public should participate in any upcoming comment process to ensure that the Ontario government begins scaling back permits for bottled water withdrawals.

The BC government is calling for public comments on newly released papers on groundwater licensing until September 8. Be sure to send in comments calling on the BC government to scrap ‘First in time first in right’ and to make the permits one-five years only.

We must work to ensure all legislation, policies and decisions are based on water as a human right, commons and public trust. As Maude Barlow has written, “A true Commons is based on a co-management model and requires true collaboration between community and government and ability of regulatory agencies to implement public recommendations.”

For too long, governments have left communities out of decision making. We need to make our voices louder and take action to protect water. The global water crisis here and these are decisions we cannot afford to sit out.