Nestle, group hope to clear up confusion about Middlebrook well test, future use

Nestle Waters Canada and Save Our Water officials agree there exists some confusion surrounding Nestle’s proposed Middlebrook well.

But that may be the only common ground between the two groups.

In a meeting with Advertiser representatives on Sept. 17, Nestle Waters natural resources manager Andreanne Simard  said the company wants to clear up confusion created by an unauthorized advertisement placed in the Newspaper last month.

The ad, as well as leaflets being distributed in the township, asks concerned  residents to contact a Nestle consultant to have their wells monitored during testing for the well Nestle may acquire on Middlebrook Road west of Elora.

“This information contains incorrect claims and was not approved for publication by Golder Associates, nor by Nestlé Waters,” Simard said in a press release.

Libby Carlaw, a member of Save Our Water (formerly Friends of Elora Water), blames Nestle for confusion surrounding the test procedure.

“The problem is … the pump test hasn’t been put up on the EBR (Environmental Bill of Rights website),” Carlaw told the Advertiser on Sept. 22.

“So we can’t give people information that’s correct to protect their wells during testing … Only Nestle knows what they’re doing.”

Simard said the company is doing everything it can to keep people informed. She explained Nestle applied for the “aquifer test” in July to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), which is responsible for posting the application on the EBR registry for public comment.

Pending approval, Simard said the test, scheduled for November, will include up to 30 days of testing at a volume of 300 U.S. gallons per minute – and possibly an additional 30 days if subsequent quality testing is needed. The water will be discharged into the Grand River.

Simard explained Nestle has voluntarily extended the MOECC requirement to survey all wells within 500 metres to include 80 properties within a two-kilometre radius and several properties in Salem, almost 4km away.

Another issue that has created confusion is the definition of “supplementary,” which Nestle uses to describe its Middlebrook well proposal.

During an Aug. 5 public open house, Nestle’s director of corporate affairs John Challinor said the company  “would use the well when our primary production well in Aberfolye has to be shut down for maintenance or … an emergency.” He added the well “is not going to be used on a regular basis.”

Information provided by Simard seemed to refute that statement, noting the Middlebrook well would “support future business growth,” in addition to a back-up function.

“It is a business decision whether the well would run all the time. It is still early in the process,” Simard said Sept. 17.

The next day Challinor said extraction at the well would not be “anywhere near” the permitted maximum of 300 U.S. gallons per minute.

However, he could not provide an estimate of how often the well would be used or how much water would be drawn.

“(We will have) invested millions of dollars in that property and into that well … it is going to be used,” he said.

Challinor explained the reference to “future business growth” is “occasional use,” noting neither of the company’s current wells – in Aberfoyle (600 gallons per minute) and Hillsburgh (200 gallons per minute) – are operating at capacity.

Carlaw said Save Our Water members worry the “supplementary” label is being used to ease concerns and once a permit to take water is issued there’s nothing stopping the company from operating at the maximum extraction rate.

“Ultimately the permit is what the permit is, regardless of what [Nestle is] calling it,” Carlaw said.

She told the Advertiser Save Our Water members have received conflicting information from Nestle.

“It’s not surprising there’s confusion,” Carlaw said. “It’ll be interesting to hear what they say next week – and the week after that.”

Simard said Nestle is offering regular office hours in Elora to keep people informed (details are published in the Advertiser).

She explained if testing this fall is approved and successful, and Nestle decides to move forward with the acquisition of the Middlebrook well, “it will possibly take one to two years” before the company can use the well for commercial bottling.

“There is a significant amount of work required in the tests,” she said, noting Nestle will host another open house to present results to the public.

– With files from Mike Robinson