Several groups are calling on the province to tighten groundwater laws as B.C. is the only jurisdiction in Canada that does not charge major corporations for groundwater use.
Nestle is bottling and selling up to 265 million litres of water from the area around Hope, B.C., every year for free, says Sheila Muxlow of the WaterWealth Project.
That’s nearly the size of seven Olympic-sized swimming pools, she adds, and Nestle is one of several multinationals bottling B.C.’s fresh water.
"Outside of the fact that they are draining the size of a small lake on an annual basis without any sort of accountability… this is a microcosm of a larger failure with the way B.C.’s water is managed."
Currently, British Columbia has no regulation on groundwater use. Corporations can extract as much ground water as they like without any fees.
Muxlow says no studies have been done to measure the environmental impact of draining that quantity of water every year, and not enough is being done to monitor and regulate the extraction of water.
But Nestle, the largest seller of bottled water in the world, says it is acting responsibly and contributing to the B.C. economy.
"Aquifers are not bath tubs. They're water systems deep in the ground that are constantly moving, they're constantly replenishing," says John Challinor, a spokesman for Nestle.
"We're investing millions of dollars in that plant. We employ 75 people [and] we pay millions of dollars in taxes," he added.
Challinor says Nestle would be willing to pay for the resource, as long as everybody else did.
The B.C. Environment Ministry says it plans to introduce new regulations next year.