Kitchener-Waterloo

Nestlé Waters offers Town of Erin money for community benefit fund

Offer ‘a quasi-profit’ situation for town, Wellington Water Watchers board chair says

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Nestlé Waters Canada has proposed helping the Town of Erin by creating a community benefit fund. The money is part of community outreach by the company, but the group Wellington Water Watchers is concerned the fund is essentially the company paying the town for its water. (Getty Images)

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An offer by Nestlé Waters Canada to develop a community benefit fund for the Town of Erin is cause for concern, water advocates say.

The fund would give the town 50 cents for every 1,000 litres of water Nestlé takes from the well they own in town. Nestlé has said the town would get at least $25,000 annually.

But Mike Nagy of the Wellington Water Watchers said the fund is a "quasi-profit situation" and no municipality should profit from the sale of water.

He said the trucks used to take water from the Hillsburgh well in Erin to Nestlé's water bottling facility in Aberfoyle should be seen as a burden.

"Instead of looking at those trucks as something that should be removed from our system, they're going to be looked at, cha-ching, each truck that goes by is going to be representing revenue," Nagy said.

"We just fundamentally oppose seeing water going out of the community and then, hey, here's a little bit of cash for your trouble."

Village of Hillsburgh in the Town of Erin, Ontario Nestle Waters

Nestlé Waters Canada has offered to create a community benefit fund for the Town of Erin. The company owns a well in the village of Hillsburgh, located in the Town of Erin. (Google StreetView)

Community wants Nestlé to do more

Nestlé Waters Canada proposed the idea of the fund during a Feb. 1 council meeting.

The fund would be similar to other community engagement projects the company has undertaken in recent years, including helping restore Mill Creek in Aberfoyle, providing the land for the Everdale Organic Farm and research funding at both the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo.

As well, Nestlé Waters had a voluntary levy they paid the Town of Erin from 2000 to 2005.

Andreanne Simard, a natural resource manager with Nestlé Waters Canada, said they surveyed residents in Erin in late 2015 to see how the company could help the area.

"They wanted to see us add more value to the community," Simard said.

Simard said they've owned the well in Erin for 17 years and they want to be good neighbours – that's why the company is offering the fund.

"It's certainly not a PR stunt. This is something that we really want to add value to the community and it's one of the many ways that we're trying to do so," she said.

There's no restriction for how the town can use the money, but Simard said ideally, it would not go into general revenue.

"We want to see the community benefit from this in a tangible way," she said. 

Town would get at least $25,000 annually

The permit to take water from the Hillsburgh well, which Nestlé bought in 2000, allows the company to take up to 1.1 million litres daily.

That means with the fee structure the company has suggested for the fund, the town would get $200,000. The company has said the town would get a minimum $25,000 each year, even if Nestlé doesn't pump that much water.

Simard also noted there are usually four or five trucks per day that move water from the Erin well to Aberfoyle.

"We're not, by any means, having 24/7 trucks coming in and out of Erin," she said, adding the water bottled in Aberfoyle stays in Ontario and does not get trucked to the United States.

In her report to council, Simard noted the company removed just over 82 million litres in 2016, more than 78.4 million litres in 2015, which was down from 146 million in 2014 and 223.6 million in 2013.

The highest amount Nestlé has removed from the Hillsburgh well was in 2001, when 282.7 million litres were pumped out and trucked to Aberfoyle.

Simard said the company wants to be transparent both with their operations and the reason for the community benefit fund.

Andreanne Simard

Andreanne Simard is Nestle's chief hydrologist, her job is to ensure the food giant's bottling operations are sustainable in order to preserve ground water "forever." (Jon Castell/CBC News)

'Something very sacred about water'

The fund is different from when other companies offer to pay for a park or arena because this involves water, Nagy said.

"There's something very sacred about water," he said.

Nagy said they are concerned the town council will approve the fund with little public input.

A group of concerned citizens has planned a meeting Wednesday night in Erin and invited Wellington Water Watchers to take part, he said.

He noted the province has already raised concerns about how much water bottling companies in the province pay for take water permits.

Nagy said ultimately, his group is advocating for the entire industry to be phased out.

"Every litre [of water] represents two pieces of plastic that enters the world's waste stream," he said.

Town of Erin Mayor Allan Alls said the matter is coming up at the April 18 council meeting and he would be willing to comment on the fund following that meeting.

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