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Ontario needs to ensure water remains in the public common

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Nestlé water bottle. Image credit: Nestlé/Flickr

Nestlé, the world's largest corporate water bottler, is planning to sell its North American bulk bottled-water business to private equity firm One Rock Capital Partners.

Ontario's Wellington County will be particularly hard hit by this pending sale since Nestlé currently owns three wells in the area that supply its Aberfoyle bottling plant.

Wellington Water Watchers (WWW), a non-profit organization founded in 2007, has dedicated its efforts to the protection, restoration and conservation of drinking water in Ontario. The group wants to ensure water remains part of the public common rather than being commodified for profit.

"Rural communities cannot afford to compete with Wall Street speculators for Ontario's groundwater," says Rob Case, chairperson of WWW.

"[Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks] Jeff Yurek must cancel Nestlé's permits to take water for bottling in order to prevent them selling to a private equity firm. This massive transfer of 'water wealth,' estimated at $4 billion, is an especially ominous development in light of Wall Street's accelerating interest in 'water futures' trading and must be stopped," added Case.

The moratorium on new permits to take water for bottling in Ontario is set to expire April 1, 2021. Nestlé currently extracts hundreds of millions of litres of water every year from the aquifer in Wellington County.

"Water privatization is anti-democratic," says Arlene Slocombe, executive director of WWW. "Water is a unifying source of life that connects all of us together. It should not be negotiated away behind closed doors or exploited by corporations for profit. It's time for the Ontario government to protect the waters here for future generations."

WWW is member of a bi-national coalition of national advocacy groups and communities impacted by Nestlé's water extraction and bottling in the U.S. and Canada. The coalition demands that state, provincial and national authorities exercise their authority to declare all of Nestlé's current permits to take water to be void. They also want assurances the transfer of current permits to potential purchasers will be prohibited.

WWW is advocating for community-based just transitions for workers in the water-bottling industry as well as economic transition plans for communities reliant on tax revenues from water-bottling facilities.

The group also encourages renewed public investment in water infrastructure to ensure affordable, accessible clean water for all.

Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

Image credit: Nestlé/Flickr

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