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What we know (and don’t know) about Nestlé’s departure from Canada

Last week’s announcement of Nestlé Waters leaving Canada is a great milestone in this David vs Goliath story, and a victory for the community groups, First Nations and residents across Canada fighting the multi-national bottled water giant. We know the fight against water takings is not over, and there are still many questions about what this move means. 

Over the past few days, the Council of Canadians has been looking into the details of the sale and finding out more about Ice River Springs. Here’s what we know so far about Nestlé’s sale of its Pure Life brand to the Canadian-owned company and what we still need to learn.

What we know about Nestlé and the sale

Nestlé has announced it will be selling the Pure Life brand to Ice River Springs, including the facilities in Puslinch, Ontario and Hope, B.C., as well as the well in Erin, Ontario. The Toronto Star reports that the sale includes the controversial Middlebrook well in Elora, which Nestlé purchased in 2016 amidst massive community opposition. Ontario’s moratorium on new water taking permits has meant that Nestlé was not able to obtain a permit to take water from this well. 

Last month, Nestlé announced it would be focusing on international, premium mineral and functional water brands, and is framing the sale around its new focus. But that’s not the full story – just before Nestlé announced the sale, the province of Ontario released their proposal for a new water taking framework, with new and stricter requirements for any water taking permit applications. Community advocates are seeing Nestlé’s strategic retreat as a direct result of fierce and persistent community opposition, growing awareness of its water grabs and the impacts of bottled water, and declining demand for bottled water.

The sale between Nestlé and Ice River Springs is expected to be finalized in the fall of 2020, pending the regulatory review process, but you’ll still see Nestlé water on the shelves. According to the Toronto Star, Nestlé Pure Life water will continue to be sold in Canada, produced by Ice River.

What we know about Ice River Springs

Ice River Springs has been promoting themselves as a Canadian-owned, sustainable bottled water company. However, it has been one of the largest water bottling operations in Canada even before the acquisition of Nestlé Waters. The company has facilities in Feversham, Amaranth and Grafton, Ontario; Lachute, Quebec; Calgary, Alberta; and Chilliwack, B.C.; as well as one facility in North Carolina, U.S. Currently, Ice River Springs has active permits to take up to 4.5 million litres of water a day from its Ontario wells. And to be clear: water bottling for profit is never sustainable, despite Ice River’s use of recycled plastic bottles and its many claims of commitment to sustainability.

Ice River Springs is owned by Aquafarm 93, which also owns bottled water brands like Canadian Essence and Canadian Mountain Springs, as well as the plastic recycling company Blue Mountain Plastics. In 2014, Ice River Springs also acquired Fernbrook Springs Bottled Water, another water bottling company in Ontario. Aquafarm 93 operates as a private label company that bottles and sells water to retailers such as Loblaws/President’s Choice, Shopper Drug Mart and Walmart, which then put the company’s own labels on the water bottles.

What we’re looking into

The Council of Canadians will continue to seek a better understanding of the sale, the regulatory process and Nestlé’s relationship with Ice River moving forward. I want to thank everyone who is already actively on the case. I’ve appreciated seeing your questions online and share many of the same questions.

Here’s what we’re looking into next:

  • How will previous permits to take water held by Nestlé  transfer to Ice River Springs?
  • How will upcoming regulatory updates in Ontario affect the transfer of permits?
  • Will the growing community push for an end to groundwater extraction licenses for water bottling in B.C. affect the transfer of permits?
  • How will this affect the workers at Nestlé’s facilities once the sale has finalized?
  • What are the various brands and companies affiliated with Ice River Springs?
  • What is Ice River Springs and its affiliated companies’ history of political engagement and lobbying?
  • What has been the scope of Ice River Springs’ operations in other provinces?

We know that Nestlé’s departure does not mean the end of corporate water grabs in Canada. However, the sustained activism by community groups, First Nations and Council of Canadians supporters against Nestlé has been monumental. Together, we challenged Nestlé’s every move, boycotted its products, demanded better regulation and engaged tens of thousands of people in conversations about water commodification and what it means to keep water public and protected.

Whether we’re fighting Nestlé, Ice River Springs or any other corporation, the most powerful tool against the commodification of water is an informed and organized network of people committed to safeguarding water. Sign the pledge to protect water. Thank you for standing with us as we continue this fight.