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Puslinch council continues to ask why water bottlers singled out by province

by Mike Robinson

ABERFOYLE - Puslinch councillors continue to raise concerns with the method by which the province is dealing with water issues and water bottling.

The item first came up at the March 1 council session as part of council’s ongoing discussion regarding the recent Environmental Registry Alerts and the new water bottling charge announced as part of the Ontario Water Resources Act.

The proposed regulation would establish a new regulatory charge that would apply to water bottling facilities that take groundwater pursuant to a permit to take water.

Starting Aug. 1, a charge of $500 per million litres would apply to the total amount of groundwater taken by a water bottling facility in a calendar year.

The intent of the charge is to help finance activities and programs the Ontario government is establishing to more effectively manage groundwater takings by water bottlers. It is also intended to boost public confidence in how the province regulates groundwater takings by water bottling facilities.

The charge would not apply to water bottling facilities that obtain water from a municipal drinking water system.

Puslinch councillor John Sepulis asked if there should be a tax considered to help the municipality from which the water is being taken.

He suggested this should also apply where one municipality is taking water from another municipality.

Councillor Matthew Bulmer said the $500 per million litres of water extracted works out to the equivalent of 50 cents per ton.

Bulmer too thought the charge should be comparable to an aggregate levy. He said the township does get a certain amount of funding through property taxes, but there are additional costs associated with water taking.

One of those costs is the local municipality being responsible for source water protection and monitoring.

Bulmer found it odd that the provincial fee only applies to water bottling, not for industrial/commercial uses such as making alcoholic beverages or soft drinks.

“It suggests that the natural environment and our hydrogeologists can tell the difference between water being used for bottled water versus soda pop,” said Bulmer.

“If this is intended to protect the natural environment ... it should apply to any water taking ... municipal or otherwise.”

Bulmer said one of the other items in the provincial document indicated there are alternatives to bottled groundwater such as tap water.

“But where on Earth does the province think tap water comes from for places like Guelph and Cambridge?”

Bulmer said, “It all comes from the same aquifer.”

He  added, “If we are going to put a levy on water taken from a groundwater resource, it should be applied equally to municipal wells and someone like Nestlé.”

Bulmer stated groundwater taken by a city is also being used for commercial purposes - an EA does not change how the water is being used.

Councillor Susan Fielding said it seemed “the province is doing this piecemeal in response to a special interest group ... and not addressing the entire problem.”

Fielding noted the majority of council was on hand to speak to a representative of the Ministry of the Environment recently. She hoped those comments would be considered seriously.

But with documents like the one that recently appeared on the Environmental Registry, she asked, “Are they just trying to appease certain people and appear politically correct and not looking at the whole problem?”

Councillor Ken Roth added “the whole thing has not made sense to me from the get-go ... it’s just another revenue source for the province.”

Mayor Dennis Lever said, “It seems ludicrous if you are making different kinds of beverages you are only concerned about the water that goes into one of them.”

Regarding comments related to the glass of municipal water, Lever said that if one put 500ml of municipal water from the city of Guelph versus 500ml of bottled water from Nestlé ... “more water was used to generate the municipal glass because the city loses 5 million to 8 million litres of water per day because of leaks in their (distribution) pipes.”

In addition, other materials are added to the water as a result of the municipal drinking water treatment process.

Lever agreed there are other arguments about the type of containers used ... but there are many organizations/companies using plastic containers.

Lever stated “this is a political group trying to march their agenda forward.”

He provided a copy of the presentation made to ministry staff during the ROMA conference earlier this year, which he said was “well received and the township’s time was extended.”

The document notes that while Puslinch Township is mostly rural with small hamlets, there is substantial industrial/commercial development in the area of Highway 401. It is also one of the top aggregate producers in Ontario.

Guelph/Guelph-Eramosa Tier 3 report results

A draft risk assessment report indicates signficant risk to the city’s municipal drinking water quantity based on potential future demands.

Those risks require a risk management evaluation process and water quality policies within a city/township source protection plan

Puslinch Township

Puslinch is currently the source of nearly half of Guelph’s water, which will impact township residents.

Under the Clean Water Act, the municipality that is the groundwater source is financially responsible for protecting the water source.

The result is that Puslinch Township, with a population 7,500, is left with the financially responsibility of protecting a water source for Guelph, which has a population 131,794.

Puslinch is asking how it can be responsible for the costs to protect the water source of another municipality with no ability to control how that water is used or how much is taken.

Councillors pointed out this is not just an issue with Guelph, as Cambridge is increasing its well capacity just outside the township’s western boundary.

The township continues its argument that the recent political focus is on Nestlé Waters Canada - but facts do not support singling out one category of user.

Further, the township notes that permits to take water for gravel pits are larger. While some water is recycled, there is significant loss as a result of evaporation.

The township is asking for a science-based approach to all groundwater consumption based on funded research to provide meaningful input into all water permits within its boundaries.

Puslinch is also seeking cost recovery for other municipal water taking, including protection and impacts, as well as provincial assistance with cost recovery

Council’s report included comments from Rob de Loë, a professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability and an expert in water security and governance.

De Loë stated “a major review (of Ontario’s groundwater policy) is urgently needed, but its scope has to be much larger than just water bottling.”

He added “Water bottling in general, and Nestlé in particular, have become a sideshow and a distraction from much more important issues.”         

March 10, 2017


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