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Meet the 13-year-old girl taking on bottled water

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Photo: Balazs Gardi/Flickr

In the last year, municipalities across Ontario and the rest of the country have begun taking a much-needed stand to protect local water sources. Since World Water Day in 2011, nine municipalities across Canada have become Blue Communities with many well on their way.

Blue Communities are municipalities that adopt a water commons framework by: banning the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events, recognizing water as a human right, and promoting publicly financed, owned and operated water and waste-water services.

The success of the Blue Communities project in Ontario can be mainly attributed to Robyn Hamlyn who has met with 18 mayors and councillors. She talks about the environmental impacts of bottled water, the preposterous amount of profit bottled water companies make off communities' lakes and streams and the stricter standards with which tap water is regulated. People who hear Hamlyn speak are captivated by her charm, passion and foresight to think long term about our water sources. And the incredible part of this success story is that Hamlyn is only 13 years old.

Her success has not only caught the attention of mayors, city councillors, environmentalists and media but it has also caught the attention of industry and organizations that believe water should be sold for profit. Hamlyn's determination and effectiveness has provoked responses from Nestlé and Environment Probe, an organization that promotes the sale of water as a commodity.

John Challinor, Director of Corporate Affairs for Nestlé, has written letters to local newspapers saying there are other initiatives that the 13-year-old and others "can and should focus on to help preserve, protect and strengthen our water systems that are more effective than targeting bottled water." More recently, Essie Solomon, an intern for Environment Probe, wrote an article in the Financial Post, chiding municipalities for taking "their advice from a 13-year-old." It was shocking to read Environment Probe's attack on Hamlyn who has been volunteering her free time to meet with municipal councils across Ontario to talk about the impact of bottled water on current water sources, climate change and social justice.

We should be encouraging the youth in our society to do exactly what Robyn is doing -- engaging in local politics, acting to protect the environment and questioning the world around her. Solomon, whose article is condescendingly titled "Don't bottle 13-year-old's water wisdom," would do well to pay attention to Hamlyn's work rather than toe the line of an organization that promotes the sale of water for profit.

It's also insulting to mayors and councillors to imply they do not examine critically the information presented to them. Not only is Hamlyn dispelling important myths about bottled water but she is also raising important issues that Canada is facing.

We believe municipal governments and other public bodies should not spend public funds providing bottled water at meetings or events, when a cheaper and more sustainable public alternative is readily available on tap. It simply doesn't make financial or environmental sense.

Municipalities are at a crossroads and face pressing infrastructure needs in the wake of budget cuts and conditional funding from the Harper government. The Harper government is targeting water and wastewater services for privatization. PPP Canada explicitly promotes privatization of public services by only allocating the $1.2 billion under the P3 Canada Fund to municipalities that let corporations deliver water and wastewater, transportation and communications services on a for-profit basis.

The Harper government has shut down public debate on many critical water issues and amended environmental legislation that will reverberate for generations to come. So we are heartened to see municipalities take on critical water issues and provide forums for much needed debate and it is in them that we place our hope.

The Blue Communities Project is a joint initiative of the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). This project builds on a decade of Water Watch work in coalition with many other groups to protect public water services and challenge the bottled water industry. Click here to learn more about the Blue Communities Project.

Photo: Balazs Gardi/Flickr

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