Guelph chapter opposed to glass factory that would draw 1.6 million litres of water a day

Guelph chapter activist Ron East at a GET Concerned meeting, June 18. Twitter photo by Wellington Water Watchers.

The Council of Canadians Guelph chapter is opposed to a glass factory in the Guelph-Eramosa area that is being proposed by the Chinese corporation Xinyi Glass Holdings Limited. Among their top concerns is that the plant would draw 1.6 million litres of water a day from wells that would be drilled for its cooling system.

Notably, the plant would be located 20 minutes down the road from where Nestle currently extracts millions of litres of water a year for its bottled water business.

Susan McSherry of GET Concerned has highlighted, "The intended site of the proposed large-scale, heavy industrial float glass plant lies within [an area where source ground water is already described as significantly at risk], not far from the Queensdale wellhead that is currently labelled as an unsustainable water source. Xinyi intends to drill several very deep wells, significantly deeper than existing private wells on the same aquifer that supplies water to residents of Guelph-Eramosa Township."

Guelph resident Mary H. Rubio has further highlighted in this letter to the editor, "This mega-plant will use an estimated 70 per cent of the entire township’s present yearly water consumption."

Furthermore, The City of Guelph's chief administrative officer Derrick Thomson has expressed concerns about the plant to his counterpart in Guelph/Eramosa Township. Guelph Today reports, "[Thomson is concerned about] the proposed plant's impact on Guelph's water supply because it is to be located in close proximity from the Queensdale Well — which Thomson call's the city's well that is most sensitive to interference. 'Any new water takings within this area would be considered a significant drinking water threat and present a potential risk to the City’s water supply system', said Thomson in the letter."

That article adds, "A 2017 Tier 3 Water Budget and Local Area Risk Assessment study for Guelph and Guelph/Eramosa predicted the Queensdale Well will not be able to meet the future needs of the city under normal climate conditions. That study was made before Xinyi Glass made its intention known that plans on taking over a million litres of water per day from wells to be dug on its site."

Additionally, Guelph Today has previously reported, "Some water will also be used in the treatment of emissions, said [Daniel Lau, senior advisor of business development for Xinyi], including sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide." That statement coupled the 300-foot tall 'emissions stack' planned for the plant has prompted further concerns among area residents about the potential for acid rain.

Other concerns being raised by residents include: the plant would operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; 80 to 100 trucks are expected to arrive and depart from the plant each day; much of the raw material for the plant would arrive by 40 rail cars three times a week, which has prompted both traffic and safety concerns; and the company plans to have dwelling units on site for up to 50 employees.

And the CBC now reports, "A group of citizens known as GET Concerned, who have hired an environmental lawyer [David Donnelly], have raised questions about the amount of well-water the company is expected to use and the potential safety hazard of having a furnace on the site that runs year-round."

The article adds, "The citizens' group has the backing of a Guelph/Eramosa Township councillor David Wolk, who has introduced a motion for the Monday July 16 township council meeting calling for any further consideration of the Xinyi Float Glass plant to be stopped. Wolk's motion suggests the factory would violate an existing zoning bylaw in the township known as 'For Dry Use'. That means any industry that sets up there cannot use significant amounts of water."

The chapter is also concerned about the possible ramifications of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA).

In an article focused on the tar sands, Osgoode Hall Law School professor Gus Van Harten has written, "On a close study of the FIPA's terms, a key purpose of the deal was to open Canadian resources to China and to preserve the value of Chinese assets in Canada. ...The deal gives Chinese companies powerful rights to frustrate even modest steps that reduce the value of their oil sands holdings."

That would suggest that if the glass factory is approved, subsequent measures that put restrictions on its water takings could either be prevented or challenged by so-called 'investment protection' provisions in the agreement.

McSherry wisely asks, "Because climate change has become a given fact in our lives, what happens if we experience a drought and water restrictions are activated by the Township? Would a glass plant receive a pass and be allowed to continue extracting water? What happens if our wells run dry?"

#GETConcerned #ProtectOurWater