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Time for Ontario to protect its water supplies


By Mike Nagy and Maude Barlow, published in The Record, May 11, 2017

New Ontario guidelines regarding commercial water-bottling permits do not address the problems of protecting Ontario’s groundwater, reducing plastic waste and pollution and ensuring water is for life, not profit.

The revised guidelines make companies like Nestlé Waters Canada jump over more hurdles to renew their permits to take water. On their own, however, the guidelines will not significantly reduce or stop the bottling of Ontario’s precious water by multinational corporations such as Nestlé.

Nestlé Waters Canada is currently permitted to take more groundwater every single day than the average Ontarian uses in 70 years. The revised guidelines do nothing to change this.

The law governing groundwater taking, which the new guideline relates to, has not itself been changed, and nothing in the guidelines reflects the goal of phasing out or even reducing groundwater taking for bottling in Ontario.

The revised guidelines will extend public consultations on permit applications from one month to three, suggest better consultation with Indigenous communities, and urge stricter consideration of cumulative impacts. The guidelines also increase the fees that corporations pay for water permits.

Contrary to the public accusations of “regulatory assault” that the Canadian Bottled Water Association recently raised, the new regulations suggest the outcome may be business as usual. Despite the new guidelines, private profit-taking from Ontario’s water will continue as the population grows, demand for water rises, and climate change-related droughts increase in frequency and duration.

Premier Kathleen Wynne stated in September in mandating this review 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.”

Ontario residents have made it clear they expect more than “improvements” in water-bottling policy. Recent polls by the Council of Canadian and Mainstreet Research show that two-thirds of the public supports an end to water-extraction permits for bottling. Of 20,000 or more people who responded to the environment ministry’s consultation on permits, the majority preferred that the government stop letting corporations such as Nestlé take water for bottling.

In light of overwhelming public support, now is the time for Wynne to announce a bold new policy to phase out, within 10 years, permits to take water for bottling in Ontario. The premier can begin by announcing that no permits to take water for this purpose will be issued for any new wells.

Second, approximately 17 permits to take water for bottling are up for renewal in 2017. Wynne should require these corporations to reduce their water taking by 20 per cent this year, and by 20 per cent each subsequent year. It is our understanding that an additional 15 permits will be up for renewal between 2021 and 2025. These permit holders should be advised that their permits will end within five years of renewal.

Third, the Ontario government must develop a just transition plan to protect workers in the water extraction industry.

To protect our air and our health, a previous Liberal government had the courage to close Ontario’s coal-powered generating plants. The premier should take action to reduce the mountains of plastic bottles in landfills, and to protect Ontario’s precious drinking water supplies.

It’s time to end water-extraction permits for bottling. Water is for life, not for profit.

Mike Nagy is the chair of the Wellington Water Watchers. Maude Barlow is national chair of the Council of Canadians and chairs the board of Washington-based Food and Water Watch.