Moratorium on new water bottling permits ends April 1

·4 min read

WELLINGTON COUNTY — The province’s moratorium on new permits to take water for bottling is up for renewal on April 1.

The Wellington Water Watchers, a local group that has opposed Swiss food and beverage company Nestlé’s operations in Wellington County since 2007, is calling for the province to use the opportunity to begin phasing out permits to take water for bottling in Ontario.

This comes as Nestlé has announced last month it is selling its North American operations to private equity firm One Rock Capital in partnership with Metropoulos & Co.

The Wellington Water Watchers and NDP environment critic Sandy Shaw are calling for the province to halt any transfer of existing permits to the new owners.

“We think that they should cancel Nestlés’s permits, and take this opportunity to begin the phase out of permits to take water for bottling in Ontario,” says Mike Balkwill, a spokesperson for the Wellington Water Watchers. “Failing that, the absolute minimum that they should do is not allow Nestlé to renew their permits.”

The province made changes to the Water Resources Act to require municipal support for new or increased permits to take water for bottling for a cumulative amount above 379,000 litres per day in December.

“We passed changes to the Ontario Water Resources Act in December 2020 that will give host municipalities more direct input on allowing bottled water companies to withdraw new or increased amounts of groundwater in their communities,” says Gary Wheeler, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, in an email.

On the Environmental Registry of Ontario, the province says its changes to the act are anticipated to be activated at the same time as the moratorium for new water bottling permits ends.

Nestlé’s permits to take water for bottling at the Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh plants have both expired, though the province allows the plants to continue operating.

How this anticipated change in legislation will impact any possible renewal or transfer of Nestlé’s water-taking permits is unclear.

“It’s very important that the minister say that Nestlés’ permits end with Nestlé — that any successor company has to apply for new permits,” says Balkwill.

“Nestlé is not going to be the company going forward, so they should not be applying for new permits. They should not be allowed to renew their permits and transfer those to One Rock Capital.”

Nestlé’s Aberfoyle well’s daily average water taking was over 1.5 million litres in 2019. Daily takings ranged between 0 and over 2.6 million litres/day according to its 2019 annual report.

Balkwill also feels that the province has an opportunity to engage in reparations, renegotiations and co-governance with First Nations over water. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy delivered Nestlé a cease-and-desist order in 2019.

The province has proposed changes to its water quantity management to establish priorities of water use to guide water-taking decisions, manage multiple water takings where sustainability is a concern, and increase transparency of how Ontario manages water resources, according to Wheeler.

“Ontarians can have confidence that the province’s programs, policies and science protect our vital water supplies and ensure we have sustainable water resources now and into the future,” he says.

The province completed a review of its water-taking programs, policies and science tools. This review included assessments done by independent experts that were also reviewed by a panel from Professional Geoscientists Ontario. Their reports can be found on the Province’s Environmental Registry Listing.

According to the Environmental Registry listing, the review found that “bottled water takings in Ontario are not impacting the sustainability of groundwater resources and that groundwater takings for bottling are managed sustainably in the province under existing legislation, regulation and guidance.”

The Record reached out to Nestlé Waters Canada and received a response attributed to Andreanne Simard, Natural Resource Manager for Nestlé:

“Nestlé Waters Canada supports policies in Ontario that are grounded in science and maintains a fair, objective approvals process.

“The Government of Ontario’s science and policy review, conducted last year, confirmed that water-takings for bottled water are managed sustainably and that there is no scientific justification for regulating water bottlers any differently than other water users. We expect the government will soon implement its new policy framework and allow the water bottling moratorium to expire because the science has shown it is not needed.

“We are proud of our company’s long history of protecting the environment, supporting the communities as an employer, contributor to local organizations and by maintaining open and transparent communications.”

Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email lgerber@therecord.com

Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record