Opinion Column

Protective measures need to be taken for water use

By Patricia Daly

In the middle of a severe drought in southern Ontario, the bottled water giant Nestle is buying up more groundwater sources and now has permits from the Ontario government to remove a total of over 20 million litres of water per day.

Environmentalists are urging the Ontario government against renewing one of Nestle's water taking permits in a southwestern Ontario town, saying “water should be for life, not for profit.”

Wellington Water Watchers says the permit for Nestle's Waters in Aberfoyle, Ont. expired on July 31, but the company has been allowed to keep extracting water from a local well even in the midst of a severe drought.

The group says the Ministry of Environment did not post Nestle's renewal application for the usual 30 days of public comment, and instead granted the company an automatic extension without consulting people who live in the area.

Wellington Water Watchers reports that the aquifer that supplies the Nestle production well has declined about 1.5m from 2011 to 2015 while Nestle's water taking increased 33% over the same period.

In August we learned that Nestle has bought up another well near Elora, Ontario despite the local municipality's attempt to purchase it to prevent the groundwater from being extracted for bottling.

Ontario charges $3.71 for every million litres of water they extract – a total of less than $75 per day for their total permits of 20,000,000 litres of groundwater.

This is precisely one of the reasons Canada needs a National Water Policy. The Federal Water Policy is more than 30-years-old and badly outdated. Canada's economy is built on the myth of an abundance of freshwater. In fact, only one per cent of freshwater in Canada is renewable. Water use and consumption will remain unsustainable unless protective measures are taken.

Surface and groundwater should be declared a public trust and would require the government to protect water for communities' reasonable use. Under a public trust doctrine, community interest in water would take precedence over private use.

Permission to extract groundwater under the public trust doctrine, for example, might be granted based on the ability to show how the community would benefit from any proposed extraction. It may also lead to the creation of a hierarchy of use requiring that water use be allocated for ecosystems and basic human needs first, and not corporate needs such as large-scale industrial projects, or by bottled water companies.

Patricia Daly is a member of the local branch of Council of Canadians