Recently, a multinational company, Nestlé Canada Inc. operating as Nestlé Waters Canada requested to renew its permit to extract 3.6 million litres of water a day in Aberfoyle for the next 5 years. Located in Southern Ontario, near Guelph, it is the residence of Nestlé’s bottling operations. In addition, it has placed a second request through the Environmental Registry to truck 1.1 million litres of water a day from Hillsburgh, Ont. to the bottling plant that should also last for the next 5 years.

A 30-day public review and comment period began mid-April, spurring the local citizens of Guelph to mobilize under various organizations, namely the Wellington Water Watchers against the renewal of these permits. In partnership with the Grand River Conservation Authority, the City of Guelph commissioned Golder Associates to study the geology of the region.

This report initiated concerns over the potential link between the aquifer situated in Aberfoyle and the Amabel aquifer underlying the City of Guelph, its source for municipal tap water. Many professionals in the field agree that to correctly analyze the hydrogeology of an area is a difficult task, especially when attempting to predict future trends.

The campaign against Nestlé follows the successful mobilization of Guelph citizens against the potential construction of a pipeline from Lake Erie to Guelph. The city councillors considered this alternative as a future source of water under the City of Guelph Master Water Supply Plan. With a newly elected council in November of 2006, the pipeline was removed from the plan. A year later, Nestléâe(TM)s requested permit would account for 7 per cent of the city of Guelphâe(TM)s daily average demand from 1997-2003.

This is of great importance, since the population of Guelph and Wellington county will double by 2031 according to the Places to Grow Act, 2005, questioning Guelph’s future supply to satisfy increased demand. In fact, the City of Guelph Water Supply Master Plan, 2006, recommends: âeoeThat the City improve its water supply and build up some extra groundwater sources to hold in reserve, including sources outside the City but within Wellington County.âe It is unwise to let a private company take the water that the city may need shortly.

At the beginning of May, staff experts and other hydrogeologists stated there is no direct competition between the Aberfoyle and Guelph aquifers. This led the City of Guelph to recommend a two-year renewal instead of a five-year renewal despite their lack of political power over Nestlé’s operations.

In 2003, the Ontario Liberal McGuinty government placed a moratorium on water taking for a brief period; one of its concerns included a lack of source water protection regulations.

There is a lack of legislation directed at the effects of bulk water removal on watershed balance. It is important to note a citation taken from the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement, signed by the province of Ontario and the other provinces and states bordering the Great Lakes.

Article 201 (1) a. December 2005: âeoeAll water withdrawn from the basin shall be returned, either naturally or after use, to the Source watershed.âe

Clearly this clause prohibits the use of water outside its watershed of origin.

The Guelph Council of Canadians are also concerned about Nestlé’s water taking, as the Ministry of the Environment is supposed to take an âeoeecosystem approachâe as outlined by the Environmental Bill of Rights’s Guiding Principles. An ecosystem approach would not, for example, include water being shipped out of a watershed in plastic bottles, as this disturbs the water cycle of an area. Bulk water transfer will be in discussion in the future once redistribution of water to regions plagued by scarcity emerges.

But currently, Francis Snider, the consumer services general manager of Nestlé Waters in Colbourg, Ont. confirmed that over 90 per cent of their bottled water remains in Canada, a country rich in water resources and strict municipal regulations.

Increased consumption is an environmental concern, especially with climate change being an important environmental issue in Canada, and recent dialogue on peak oil. Fossil fuels are used for packaging, for transporting bottles and running both the industry and recycling plants. Polyethylene terepthalate (PET), derived from crude oil, is commonly used for water bottles. More than 1.5 million barrels of oil are used to supply the annual American demand for bottled water. As stated by the Earth Policy Institute in 2006, this is âeoeenough to fuel around 100,000 U.S. cars for a year.âe Globally, this figure totals 2.7 million tons of plastic used for this market each year.

Opting for bottled water with the intention to quench one’s guilt by recycling is not the way forward. Viewing recycling trends, our society cannot rely on the assumption that consumers will recycle. In the United Status, The Container Recycling Institute (CRI) assumes the rate of recycling of non-carbonated beverages to have been below 20 per cent in 2005, in the United States. PET is a very stable compound, the rate of biodegradation of plastic varies among studies from 100 to 1,000 years.

Ontario is in a serious waste management crisis. The environmental commissioner of Ontario, Gord Miller, recently reported the state of Ontarioâe(TM)s landfills. His results were startling. The last inventory of Ontarioâe(TM)s landfills, collected by the Ministry of Environment, dates back to 1991. Growing âeoeopposition to landfill sites, lack of provincial leadership, inadequate public consultation, unclear processes, and lack of financing and markets for recyclable materialsâe spurred a goal of 50 per cent diversion from landfills by the year 2000.

By 1991, regulations were in place to enforce the 3Râe(TM)s program (reduce, reuse, and recycle). The Ontario government withdrew significant involvement and this caused the successful 21 per cent diversion rate in 1992 to stagnate. A decade later, diversion remained low at 28 per cent. This spurred another initiative to set a diversion goal of 60 per cent by the year 2008. Gord Miller expressed concern over this ambitious goal.

Water quality from bottled water has also raised concern. A recent study has proven PET bottles increase antimony levels in bottled water. Antimony is an element with potentially toxic effects to humans. To validate their results, the researchers who did this study compared the source water to the same water purchased in PET bottles after 3 months of storage. Antimony levels were significantly higher. In addition, Sb2O3, antimony oxide, was used as a catalyst in PET manufacturing, a suspected carcinogen.

Health Canada has provided its own opinion in a frequently asked questions section on its website. In an attempt to clarify the false perception on the safety of bottled water over municipal water, Health Canada states that:âeoeSome people think that bottled water is safer than municipal tap water, but there is no evidence to support this.âe

âeoeBottled water sold in Canada has generally been found to be of good microbiological and chemical quality and is not considered to pose any health hazard. Consumers should be aware that bottled water is as safe to consume as tap water from a microbiological quality and chemical safety standpoint.âe

Health Canadaâe(TM)s choice of words is noteworthy: âeoeas safe to consume as tap water,âe denoting that tap water sets the standard for drinking water safety.

Many proponents of bottled water are unaware of the regulatory deficiencies in the industry. Ontario has a new Safe Drinking Water Act, which established numerical limits on contaminants in municipal drinking water in 2002. This Act regulates maximum levels of chemical, bacterial and radiological substances allowed in drinking water. This differs from the bottled water supply, which is not legally required to meet the Actâe(TM)s standards. Bottled water is considered food and therefore follows the Food and Drug Regulations monitored by Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Currently, over 6,000 citizens have responded to the Environmental Registry in relation to Nestlé’s permits. No decision has been put forward by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. The actions presented by the local citizens is not solely a concern against the closure of a potential water source for the City of Guelph, or a concern for human health and the state of Ontario’s waste management but also a direct questioning of the privatization of public water. Should we allow a multinational company to dominate a resource that should be a human right, managed by a consciousness based on sustainability?