Water Grab

Giant Nestle is playing hardball with common heritage resources again. Last week the multinational outbid a small, but growing community in Ontario for a well near Elora. The community needed a safe source of clean drinking water; the corporation needed a “supplemental well for future business growth”.

Nestle already extracts up to 3.6 million litres of water a day from the area’s water shed for its bottling site in nearby Aberfoyle. That’s enough water to fill three olympic-sized swimming pools every production day. They’re charged the ridiculous rate of $3.71 per million litres.

The Ministry of the Environment called the sale of the Middlebrook property a “private transaction,” and said its only role was to evaluate the proposed water-permit application.

In response, Premier Wynne told reporters it was time to separate bottled water companies from the many other sectors that have water-taking permits, including mining and construction. Nice soundbite, but how deep does this commitment go?

Last September, the Ontario Ministry of Environment renewed Nestlé’s permit for another five years, but set out a mandatory restriction requiring Nestlé to reduce its water takings by 20 per cent during times of moderate drought. Nestlé appealed.

The Council of Canadians and Wellington Water Watchers argued on behalf of the people stating the appeal was inconsistent with the public trust and must be rejected. The public trust doctrine holds that important common resources – such as water and air – are held by government on behalf of the public, and must be managed for the benefit of current and future generations.

But in a stunning move, the Ministry agreed to settle the appeal with Nestlé and the two have jointly asked the tribunal to approve a new agreement which could effectively remove drought-based restrictions at Nestlé’s well in Hillsburgh.

At a time of unprecedented drought and fresh water pollution why is the government of Ontario siding with a water-hungry transnational water corporation, when residents and farmers are being asked to cut back on their water use?

And let’s not forget the environmental cost of the massive consumption of bottled water. Plastic bottles used to package water take from 400 to 1,000 years to bio-degrade. If incinerated, they produce toxic fumes. It requires three times the amount of water to produce a plastic bottle than it does to fill it and only one in five bottles get recycled.