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UPDATE: Council and allies challenge Nestle water takings in Ontario

The Council of Canadians and Wellington Water Watchers – with legal representation from Ecojustice – have won the right to challenge a proposed agreement, which would permit the draining a shared water source during low water conditions, despite objections from Nestle and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE).

By gaining Party status through the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT), the groups will ensure the watershed is protected from harmful takings, especially during droughts. As noted on its website, “The ERT’s primary role is adjudicating applications and appeals under various environmental and planning statutes.”

This case is important locally but can also set an important precedent on a larger issue – how the province makes decisions about water. Last March, the two groups formally requested a review of Ontario’s Permit to Take Water (PTTW) process as it applies to licenses granted by the province to bottle water, urging Ontario to overhaul its ‘outdated and narrow approach’ that is inconsistent with the public trust doctrine (PTD). Our concern was that Nestle has a permit from Ontario through to 2017 to take about 1.1 million litres of water per day from Hillsburgh for its bottling operations in Aberfoyle.

The PTD reaffirms the supremacy of public rights over private rights for critical resources such as groundwater. It impresses upon governments the positive legal duties of a trustee to manage such natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations and embodies key principles of environmental protection: stewardship, communal responsibility, and sustainability.

On February 19, we learned that Nestle and the MOE have struck a deal which would settle their appeal by removing all restrictions on pumping during droughts. We also learned that Nestle and the MOE both planned to oppose our request for Party status. In a win for public participation, the ERT granted us Party status – an important first step forward in this challenge.

For more, please read:
NEWS: Nestlé appeals mandatory reductions in bottled water takings during drought
NEWS: Concerns raised about Nestle’s request for water taking permit near Guelph
Environment ministry asked to get tough on bottled water industry to protect vulnerable water sources