Wellington Water Watchers demand environmental assessment of permits to take water

GUELPH – On July 15, Wellington Water Watchers (WWW) unveiled a billboard on Gordon Street, a few kilometres north of Nestlé’s Waters Canada bottling plant in Aberfoyle.

The billboard, on the property of Mike Marcolongo, directs the public to the Wellington Water Watchers website and asks people to send Premier Doug Ford a letter demanding a full environmental assessment of water bottling by Nestlé and other commercial water bottling operations in Ontario.

The group contends the Ontario government’s current process to review applications for permits to take water for bottling:

– fails to recognize water as a public trust;

– does not guarantee consent consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People;

– fails to recognize the increasing threat of climate change to availability of drinking water;

– does not adequately assess the cumulative impact of watertaking on groundwater;

– does not assess the environmental impact of plastic pollution from discarded bottles; and

– does not assess the health risks of micro-plastics in drinking water.

“The Ontario government is ignoring important issues when reviewing Nestlé’s application to renew their permits to extract water,” states WWW chair Dr. Robert Case.

“An environmental assessment is necessary to allow full debate of all the social and environmental impacts of water bottling. I am confident the results will support out larger demand to phase our permits to take water for bottling in Ontario.”

“Water is for life, not profit,” says Karen Rathwell, retired educator, Guelph resident and WWW board member.

As the billboard was unveiled, Rathwell offered “a toast to … public water. Water is part of the public trust and needs to be kept so. We need to keep water in Wellington County in the ground and protected. Water is for life, not profit. Water should never be for sale.”

WWW executive director Arlene Slocombe added, “Permits to take water are being granted without prior, free and informed consent of indigenous people’s organizations.”

“The Six Nations Band Council, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Chiefs of Ontario and the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians have all declared their public opposition to permits to take water for bottling. In fact, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council issued a ‘cease and desist’ letter on June 7.”

Wellington Water Waters is calling on the province to suspend the current process to review applications to renew permits to take water for bottling and instead designate them for an environmental assessment.

In a press release issued by WWW, the group states “An environmental assessment of applications to renew permits to take water for bottling will allow for the necessary public debate of the full range of social and environmental impacts.

Case said property owner Mike Marcolongo has been involved in water issues and protection for a long time.

Slocombe said WWW has also worked with Marcolongo on a campaign to protect the local moraine.

“We decided we wanted to have this in place prior to Nestlé’s application to renew its permit,” she said.

Case contended the revised restrictions regarding permits to take water was an incomplete job.

He stated, “We think these permits need to be subject to broader social and environmental impacts. The process itself doesn’t give the government enough to see the whole picture of the impacts …”

“… and engage the public in a dialogue in the broader impacts,” interjected Slocombe.

Case stated, “Water taking for bottling should just be phased out over the next five years.” He said the five-year timeframe would provide a just transition time for those currently employed by the industry.

Nestlé response

In response to Advertiser questions regarding whether or not the company was intending to submit an application, Nestlé Waters Canada director of corporate affairs Jennifer Kerr attributed the following comments to  Nestlé Waters Canada natural resources manager Dr. Andreanne Simard.

“What we can say on the timing right now is that we are working through the process,” she added

“Science and data drives everything we do. It is important to understand that the regulations and permits for water bottlers in Ontario are among the most regulated in the country. The City of Guelph Tier 3 groundwater model, which is the best available tool in the area, was utilized to assess both cumulative impacts and climate change scenarios. These results were presented at the community information sessions we hosted in April. Nestlé Waters Canada has a 20-year history of studying the groundwater in Aberfoyle and Erin and we share this information publicly, with local universities, municipalities and the Ministry of the Environment. Sustainability drives everything we do.”