Erin residents speak out against Nestle”™s voluntary levy before council makes decision

A voluntary levy offered by Nestlé Waters Canada to the Town of Erin has sparked outrage from community members.

While council decided in a 4-1 vote on April 18 to accept the levy, residents gathered prior to that decision to voice their concerns.

In an open meeting organized by citizens at the Erin United Church on April 12, residents filled the pews to urge councillors to say no to the levy.

On Feb. 1, Nestlé Waters proposed an annual voluntary levy of $0.50 per 1,000 litres, with a minimum payment of $25,000 per year.

Based on data from 2000 to 2016, Erin would have received between $27,000 and $141,000 annually if the levy had been in place.

The average levy would be about $40,000.

“The proposal is almost like a commission on water,” said Erin resident Liz Armstrong, who’s part of Transition Erin’s Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

“What a temptation, especially for a town that has always said ‘we need more commercial taxation.’ What we want to say is that our community is bigger than this,” she said.

“We want the industry phased out.”

Invited to speak at the event were Mike Nagy of the Wellington Water Watchers, Donna McCaw of Save Our Water and Wellington County councillor Shawn Watters. They all opposed Nestlé Waters’ purchase of the Middlebrook well near Elora.

McCaw compared Nestlé’s levy proposal to a bribe.

“If I was robbing a bank of millions and millions and millions of dollars, I wouldn’t mind paying a few thousand dollars to pay off the police or the bank employees,” she said. “A few thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket that you cannot drink.”

McCaw told members of the crowd they need to impress upon council that this is a “very dangerous” precedent.

“It doesn’t matter how many dirty blankets and beads you offer us, this is water for our community,” she said alluding to how First Nations were treated by European settlers.

“It doesn’t matter how much money we get, you can’t drink it, bath with it, use it at all.”

Nagy encouraged residents to contact councillors about the issue.

“It’s going to set a dangerous precedent, not just in this township but across the province and it’s also going against the spirit of what the province is doing,” he said.

The province announced a moratorium on new groundwater taking permits in October and proposed in January a new fee of $503 for every million litres of water drawn by water bottling companies.

“Ontarians are more passionate about their water than we even thought they were,” said Nagy, adding the moratorium received over 22,000 comments on the Environmental Bill of Rights registry online.

“The answer is to phase it out; the answer is to get this industry out and if we can’t do it in Ontario, we can’t do it anywhere.”

Both Nagy and Watters said they want to see more groundwater studies completed.

“We have no good mapping (of the aquifer) … yet, we’re sticking straws into this system and were thinking that there’s endless amount of water down there,” Watters said.

“I was one of the first politicians to come out and say ‘you know, this is not a good thing.’

“This is the reason that we shouldn’t be supporting this; we don’t have really good base information.”

He added that as site director for Riverfest Elora he reduced waste at the music festival by banning bottled water.

Watters asked councillors to delay their decision.