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Bottled water is an election issue in Ontario

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As recently as 2016, Human Rights Watch reported approximately 300 to 400 households on the Six Nations reserve, located on the Grand River in Ontario, were without access to household water and wastewater services. Instead, these First Nations families rely on trucked water, private outhouses and portable toilets.

Ironically, Six Nations residents under the boil-water advisory live in the same watershed that Nestlé draws water from for bottling. In fact, Nestlé is bound by provincial regulations to consult with Six Nations if they want to continue drawing water from the traditional territory. A true consultation has yet to take place.

This watershed also happens to be the same one that Wellington County relies on for all of its water needs.

In response to growing demands on local ground water, the Wellington Water Watchers (WWW) formed in 2007. The non-profit organization run by volunteer citizens from Guelph-Wellington is committed to protecting local water and educating the public about threats to watersheds throughout Ontario.

WWW is focused on Nestlé because it is the only corporation bottling water in Wellington County, and it’s not only seeking to expand its water-mining but is by far the largest water bottler in Ontario.

Despite recent droughts affecting local residents and farmers in Wellington County, Nestlé made headlines in September 2016 when it outbid the community of Elora and purchased a third well in Middlebrook to expand production from its existing Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh extraction sites.

Guelph is one of the largest Canadian cities to rely almost exclusively on groundwater for its drinking water supply. That puts the Aberfoyle plant in direct competition with the needs of residents. In fact, a City of Guelph report released at the end of October 2016 exposed that Nestlé's water extraction will come into conflict with Guelph’s water needs within two decades.

It's clear that bottled water has morphed from a symbol of wealth into an icon of the growing disparity between citizens and corporations, one that compromises human rights. 

WWW believes that water is for life, not for profit. This organization is committed to protecting local water and educating the public about threats to watersheds throughout Ontario. More importantly, they have made water an election issue.

Ontario bottlers like Nestlé were paying $3.71 per million litres for the water drawn from local aquifers. In 2017 the Wynne government increased that cost to $503.71 per million litres in an attempt to try to recover permit costs. But water extracted by Nestlé is essentially free when compared to the cost to consumers for each 500 ml bottle.

As WWW Chair Mike Nagy points out, "Even if fees are very high, it does not create more clean water. There is only so much to go around. Not one single drop more has been produced since the world began. All we do is simply transform water into different states and we contaminate it. But, the bigger concern is the huge carbon footprint of bottled water production and transportation."

Nestlé Waters Canada currently has permits to extract 4.7 million litres per day of groundwater in Wellington Country. Nestle wants to increase this by an additional 1.6 million litres per day. That water leaves local watersheds, never returns and so interferes with local access to drinking water. This hasn’t even accounted for the plastic waste that ends up in landfills.

A Mainstreet poll commissioned by WWW and SumOfUs Canada Society found that:

  • 64 per cent of Ontarians, across party lines, support phasing out bottled water extraction in the province of Ontario within 10 years
  • 52 per cent support a phase out within two years
  • 64.3 per cent of all respondents do not think that private corporations should have the right to control access to groundwater. 

WWW Board Member Rob Case believes that "Leaders of all the political parties in Ontario should take seriously the message that a majority of people polled in Ontario think that permits to take water for bottling should be phased out in the next two years. Also, because 55% of people polled are likely to vote for a party that promises to stop Nestlé and other companies from bottling water in Ontario -- political candidates would be smart to get in front of this wave.”

With so much emphasis continually placed on growth, governments, business and individuals often lose sight of increasing income inequality, increasing levels of pollution, and the exploitation of our communal natural resources. At the end of the day, it’s our wellbeing and quality of life that suffers.

WWW's Executive Director Arlene Slocombe explained, "We have learned through engagement with thousands of people during our campaigning that protecting water from water bottling corporations like Nestlé is a bottom line issue for people. They tell us water is life and they will act to protect it. Political leaders who commit to phase out permits to bottle water in Ontario can win the support of the two-thirds of the people polled, across all political parties, who believe that corporate profiteering off our precious water is no longer acceptable.”

WWW does not support the idea that bottled water is the only go-to solution for every water system failure, problem or natural disaster. Instead, members see bottled water as a distraction for those in power, as well as those affected, and that prevents both groups from asking the real questions, like how did this happen? It also inhibits all involved from seeking ethical, sustainable, environmentally sound solutions that benefit all segments of society.

WWW volunteer, Karen Rathwell says, “Drinking bottled water is as cool as smoking cigarettes when you’re pregnant. Potable water is scarce worldwide, yet we continue to abuse our water systems and therefore ourselves. This current moratorium on extraction ends in 2019 so tell your MPP you want a permanent moratorium and ask them to endorse WWW's four-point plan.”

The Ontario Government is currently conducting a review of the bottled water industry. But the WWW Water for Life, Not Profit program believes the best way to protect our water is by saying no to Nestlé’s plans to increase water extraction.

The Water for Life, Not Profit program calls on the Ontario government to:

  • Phase out the bottled water industry in Ontario within ten years
  • Respect the duty to consult Indigenous communities
  • Safeguard public ownership and control of water including prohibiting private/public partnerships known as P3's
  • Ensure public access to water by requiring public facilities to make drinking water available via drinking fountains

You can learn more about the program here.

You can also download the MPP action kit, order postcards to deliver to your MPP, and send a letter or email to Premier Wynne.

WWW wants you to tell candidates that you expect the next Ontario government to Say No to Nestle and yes to Water for Life, Not Profit.

Image: Wellington Water Watchers

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