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Ontario government’s new rules for Nestlé fall well short of public demands

The Ontario government has announced modest changes to how bottled water companies, including Nestlé Waters Canada, are regulated in the province – but their tweaking falls well short of the substantive demands made by more than 20,000 people during recent public consultations.

Yesterday, the government said it would:

  • reduce the length of water extraction permits granted to bottled water companies (the length of a permit, that could still be renewed many times over, would be reduced from 10 years to 5 years)

  • implement a mandatory reduction on water taking during a drought (but not stop that water taking)

  • increase Indigenous and public notification, consultation and reporting (but did not say that community consent would be required for bottled water permits to be issued by the government).

It had also recently announced it would:

  • place a two-year moratorium on new and expanded permits to take water (rather than stopping new permits)

  • increase the fee from $3.71 to $503.71 per million litres of water taken (which equates to one-twentieth of a penny a litre of water taken).

There are also promises of “stricter rules” and “further research”.

This falls well short of the demands made by more than 20,000 people who called for a permanent moratorium on new permits (not a two-year pause), the phasing out of bottled water operations (not reducing 10-year permits to 5-year permits), and recognition of the right to free, prior and informed consent for affected Indigenous peoples (not merely increased notification, consultation and reporting).

Council of Canadians water campaigner Emma Lui says, “Vulnerable groundwater supplies can still be extracted and shipped thousands of kilometres away in single-use plastic bottles. Ontarians don’t want water wasted – they want it protected for their communities. A five-year permit to bottle and transport water out of a watershed is an eternity for a drought-ridden community. What Ontario really needs is a full phase-out of all bottled water permits.”

Questions still remain:

1- Nestlé has applied for a 10-year renewal of its now expired 5-year permit to extract 3.6 million litres of water a day from a well in Aberfoyle. That permit expired on July 31, 2016, but Nestlé has been allowed to continue to extract water during this government review process. Will the government now grant the company a 5-year permit? How much longer will Nestlé be allowed to pump water under an expired permit?

2- The Nestlé permit to extract 1.1 million litres of water per day from the Hillsburgh well expires on August 31, 2017. Will the Ontario government grant them a 5-year permit for that operation as well?

3- Nestlé also wants to extract 1.6 million litres a day from its recently purchased Middlebrook well in Elora. The Ontario government’s new regulations put a two year pause on that plan, but what will happen on January 1, 2019 when that temporary moratorium expires? Given that well is on the traditional territory of the Six Nations of the Grand River, and 11,000 of their members do not have access to clean drinking water, what will the consultation with them look like? How meaningful will it be?

The Council of Canadians is continuing its campaign to have the right to water prioritized over corporate water grabs.

The permit applications in Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh will be key moments, as will the provincial election that must take place on or before June 7, 2018.

To add your name to our online pledge to Boycott Nestle, which has now been signed by 51,863 people, please click here.