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Ontario should extend moratorium on new permits to take groundwater for bottling

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Plastic water bottles. Photo: Ricardo Bernardo/zone41.net/Flickr

Before November 30, let the Ontario Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks know you agree with its proposed extension to the moratorium on new permits to take groundwater for bottled water.

For over 15 years, Nestlé Waters Canada has been extracting water for profit in Wellington county in southern Ontario, an area that is part of the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The Wellington Water Watchers' (WWW) campaign, "Water for Life, Not Profit," maintains water should be treated as a commons, not a commodity to be bought and sold on the world market.

WWW is focused on Nestlé because the international food and beverage company is the only corporation bottling water in Wellington County. It is by far the largest water bottler in Ontario and it is seeking to expand its water-mining operations. Nestlé currently has two expired permits for wells in Wellington -- in Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh -- but continues extracting 4.7 million litres per day. In addition, it purchased a well in Middlebrook and hopes to secure a permit for that site as well.

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 indicated that Nestlé's water extraction will come into conflict with Guelph's water needs within two decades.

WWW believe water is for life, not for profit. This non-profit organization primarily run by volunteer citizens from Guelph-Wellington is committed to protecting local water and educating the public about threats to watersheds throughout Ontario.

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 with the cost to consumers for each 500 ml. bottle.

Nestlé wants to increase its 4.7 million litres per day of groundwater it extracts in Wellington Country by an additional 1.6 million litres per day. That water will leave local watersheds, never to return and, as a result, will interfere with local access to drinking water. This hasn't even accounted for the plastic waste that ends up in landfills or as litter.

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."

WWW believes water is a basic human right but, with a new provincial government that believes Ontario is open for business, access to water for the common person just became that much more precarious.

This is not just about one corporation's insatiable demand for our water, it is also about strengthening provincial regulations to help protect water across this beautiful province, the country and around the world.

Here's the link to Ontario Environment Conservation and Parks survey.

Make some time to get to know the work and campaigns of Wellington Water Watchers.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, and social activist.

Photo: Ricardo Bernardo/Flickr

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