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Concerned citizens bring message to the source with ‘Walk for Water’

Walking for water - Participants in the recent Walk for Water event - a trek from Guelph City Hall to the Nestlé Waters facility near Aberfoyle to oppose the 10-year renewal of the company’s permit to take water - took a break in a shaded green space.  photo by Bill Longshaw

Concerned citizens bring message to the source with ‘Walk for Water’

by Mike Robinson

GUELPH - Citizens concerned about water and the impact of Nestlé Waters Canada’s permit renewal bid in Aberfoyle, took part in a Walk for Water on May 29.

Shane Philips provided the original inspiration for the Walk for Water when he began walking to Nestlé in Aberfoyle to draw attention to this water taking permit in 2010, organizers note.

The event began with a 2pm rally at Guelph city hall before heading south on Gordon and rallying once again in front of Nestlé Waters Canada’s head office in Aberfoyle.

Along the way, participants  repeated their mantra - “water for life, not for profit” - and tied blue ribbons along trees in support of the Save Our Water campaign.

The event began with a women’s drum circle, including a territorial acknowledgement and some water songs, and wrapped up with a water blessing.

Wellington Water Watchers provided buses to return walkers to downtown Guelph by 6:30pm. Along the route were support vehicles during the walk to provide water refill stations, first aid and rest options for walkers.

The purpose of the event was to “honour our waters as a commons, not a commodity to be bought and sold on the world market,” said Dr. Robert Case, Wellington Water Watcher board member.

“We walk to say, ‘enough is enough.’ Too much has already been taken from the Aberfoyle site. We walk in solidarity with all those around the globe who are standing together to say ‘no’ to corporate profiteering from this life-giving source – our precious water.”

“Nestlé Waters Canada is applying for a 10 year renewal for their Aberfoyle permit,” stated Mike Nagy, Wellington Water Watcher board chair.

“We stand together to tell Kathleen Wynne to say ‘no’ to Nestlé. We will be requesting no more than a two year permit in Aberfoyle in order to assist a phase out of this permit and will also be requesting no new well at Middlebrook (in Elora).”

Case said the group wants “to show our values around community sustainable values related to water in Wellington County and therefore our opposition to Nestlé’s application to extend its water taking permit in Aberfoyle for another 10 years.”

He added, “We think a 10-year period is ridiculous. We think this is an industry that doesn’t add sufficient value to society - it adds a lot of waste to society - and is not a really good reason to take water from the aquifer.

“We think this process should end, and we are going down to Aberfoyle to assert some opposition to that permit.”

Case said the group’s preference would be the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change saying “no” to the permit altogether. However, at the same time, he said closure is not something that could happen overnight, as jobs would be affected and workers would have to be looked after.

He anticipated there would need to be a transition period to phase out Nestlé’s water taking operations.

Dozens of people gathered in the shade at Guelph city hall in anticipation for the walk - including a sizeable contingent from Centre Wellington and Save Our Water. However, potential participants also had the option of joining the walk at the Puslinch Community Centre in Aberfoyle.

“This is a pretty good turnout,” Case noted.

Case said the work of the Wellington Water Watchers is really looking at the larger picture. He noted Nestlé currently has two operating wells, one in Aberfoyle (3.6 million litres/day) and the other in Hillsburgh 1.1 million litres/day) and the potential of another well just west of Elora.

“This 10-year permit application is not just part of a holding pattern. They are expanding their operations,” said Case.

He noted the area’s population and water needs are growing, so it is necessary to “prioritize its use to where it is really needed.”

Debbie Moore, president of Nestlé Waters Canada, said she met with the Walk for Water participants.

Moore said from her perspective, “we welcomed the group and were there to answer any questions they may have had.”

She added, “we had a few tents set up on our facility with our plant manager, hydrogeologist, myself and the head of HR prepared for any questions ...

“But there was no actual dialogue,” Moore stated.

She added the company’s annual report was also available.

“We did reach out,” Moore said, adding she did meet Arlene Slocombe of Wellington  Water Watchers, who was involved in organizing the day’s event.

Moore said previously they had exchanged emails to make walk participants aware of shift changes, traffic and ongoing construction along the section of Brock Road.

“I thanked Arlene for making sure everyone was safe and sound because that was our top priority,” said Moore, who estimated 35 to 40 participants arrived at Nestlé.

“The group was very passionate and respectful,” she added. “As members of the same community we welcome their views and the opportunity for dialogue. As I’ve said many times, we have more in common than not.”

Cédric Focking Schneider, Nestlé Waters’ corporate affairs manager, added “we share the same passion for water.”

Moore added the two sides also agree “there is a need to ensure this resource is sustainable for generations to come.”

She pointed to Nestlé’s 15-year history in Aberfoyle and the company’s water monitoring to ensure the long-term sustainability of the watershed and ecosystem.

“It is very important to us, it is very important to them and it is very important to the community ... and it is certainly important to our 300 employees in the community,” said Moore.

“Any time there is an opportunity to meet with the community and to listen and potentially collaborate and provide the information to allow them informed decisions ... that is the way to go.”

She added, “We want to be transparent on every step of the future, as we have in the past.”

 

June 3, 2016

 
 

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