On July 15, Wellington Water Watchers (WWW) unveiled a billboard on Gordon Street, just north of Nestlé’s bottling plant in Aberfoyle, Ontario. It asks people to send Ontario Premier Doug Ford a letter demanding a full environmental assessment of water taking for bottling by Nestlé and other corporations in Ontario.
In 2016 Kathleen Wynne’s government imposed a moratorium on new permits to take water for bottling yet Ontario permits the extraction of more than 4.7 billion litres of water each year in Wellington County alone.
Any day now Nestlé is expected to submit an application to the Ontario government to renew their permit to extract up to 4.7 million litres of water per day from their wells in Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh. And that concerns residents of Guelph, the largest city in Canada that relies entirely on groundwater for its drinking water.
Filing this application will trigger a 90-day online consultation process. The public is encouraged to make submissions. However, it’s important to note this online consultation prevents citizens concerned about the environmental consequences, commodification of water, plastic waste, and disregard of Six Nations treaty rights from having direct contact with decision-makers.
WWW, a non-profit organization committed to the protection of local water and to educating the public about threats to the watershed, says the application and review process fails to adequately assess the consequences of Nestlé’s water mining.
“The current system doesn’t even consider the plastic waste that’s generated,” says Robert Case, chair of the board of WWW, “let alone the climate change impacts of the plastics production and trucking. It doesn’t adequately consider cumulative impacts of water-taking on groundwater systems, and it certainly doesn’t anticipate the challenges for water security brought on by climate change or problems created for public access to water by corporate exploitation and control. And it ignores Canada’s commitment under the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous peoples to attaining free, informed, prior consent from affected Indigenous communities before issuing these permits.”
WWW says the online consultation process “de-politicizes” an issue of important public concern since water is for life not profit and must be discussed directly with elected political representatives.
“Permits to take water for for-profit bottling should be phased out over the next two years, and we know from our polling that a large proportion of Ontario voters — including Conservatives ––agree with us,” Case maintains.
The first step WWW would like to see is Ford’s government impose a full environmental assessment on the policy of issuing permits to take water for the purposes of bottling so there can be a full public discussion of water bottling by Nestlé and other commercial water bottling operations in Ontario.
Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist, and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.
Photo courtesy of Wellington Water Watchers