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Ontario premier promises public consultations on Nestle water-takings

Guelph MPP Liz Sandals and Premier Kathleen Wynne

Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne appears to have promised public consultations on the province’s water-taking permit system, which would include the controversial Nestle water takings in southern Ontario.

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.”

The Canadian Press now reports, “Ontario’s opposition parties had been calling on the government to include public consultations [in a planned review of bottled water taking practices in the province], and Wynne said Monday there is ‘absolutely a place’ for [public consultations] as part of the review.”

In her mandate letter to the environment minister, released on September 23, Wynne told Glen Murray that, “immediate improvements are needed when it comes to water bottling practices, particularly in the face of climate change, the increasing demands on water resources by a growing population and concerns about water security.”

Today, Wynne said, “I think we have some immediate issues that we need to deal with because there are some permits that have been extended and there are some issues that we need to come to ground on quickly, but I think there does need to be a public consultation. I have said that I think that we need to look at water bottling and the change in our culture around bottled water and figure out how we protect our water. It is life giving. It is critical that in Ontario, where we have so much clean water, that we protect that, that we be good stewards of the land.”

That said, just last week Guelph MPP (and cabinet minister) Liz Sandals commenting on public concern about bottled water takings stated, “There’s no doubt that there is a lot of concern, but my point to you is that many of the things that people will express a concern about actually turn out to be based on misinformation.”

The Canadian Press article highlights, “NDP Leader Andrea Horwath met last week with Guelph residents and said there should be public input on broader water issues, not just the fine details of permits.”

Horwath says, “It seems to me that to have a full, clear strategy for Ontario — a comprehensive Ontario water strategy — there needs to be much more input than simply on the water-taking fees. I would think that it would be wise for the government to set a new fee if they think that’s important as a small first step, but it has to be done in the context of a broader review.”

The Council of Canadians welcomes the premier’s pledge for public consultations on water-takings in Ontario, and we are eager for them to begin as soon as possible. And we agree that the consultation cannot just be about increasing water-taking fees.

Nestle pays Ontario $3.71 for every million litres of groundwater it extracts in the province. But even if this fee were raised to $10,000 per million litres, it would still only be one penny per litre. While the low fees are a lightning rod for public concern, raising them is not the solution.

Instead, we believe a moratorium should be placed on bottled water takings in the province.

Nestle wants a ten-year permit to take 3.6 million litres a day from its well in Aberfoyle. Their current permit expired on July 31, but the company is allowed to continue to extract that same amount per day while the province considers its application. The permit for Nestle’s well in Hillsburgh expires on July 31, 2017. Nestle draws 1.1 million litres a day from that well. And last year Nestle applied for a permit to test water at a well it has just purchased in Elora. They hope to be able to secure a permit to take 1.6 million litres of water a day from that well.

Between now and November 2017, bottled water extraction permits totaling over 19 million litres per day are due for renewal in Ontario.

In the meantime, we have launched a Boycott Nestle campaign asking people not to buy bottled water. At this point, 24,212 people have signed the pledge since it was launched just 11 days ago at an evening public forum on September 22 in Guelph. To add your name to that pledge, please click here.