The Canadian Press has learned that Ontario is proposing to charge water-bottling companies a little over $500 per
million litres, up from the current fee of just a few dollars.

Public outcry erupted last year over the small fee of $3.71 that the province currently charges for every million litres on all water-taking permits.

A government source says a proposal to increase the charge to $503.71 per million litres for water-bottling companies who take from groundwater will be posted this morning on the regulatory registry for a mandatory 60-day comment period.

The government is still reviewing other types of water-taking permits, such as ones for industrial purposes.

Current fee $3.71 per million litres

The current charge of $3.71 per million litres of water is on top of a fee of $750 for low- or medium-risk water takings, or $3,000 for those considered a high risk to cause an adverse environmental impact.

Nestle protest

Public outcry over the small fee Ontario charges for every million litres of groundwater taken during last summer's drought helped get the price re-examined by the province. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The province has already proposed new restrictions for bottled water companies who want to renew permits and it has imposed a two-year moratorium on permits for new or expanded bottled water operations after Nestlé purchased a well that the township of Centre Wellington wanted for its growing community.

The bottled water giant has existing permits to take up to 3.6 million litres a day from its well in Aberfoyle, Ont., where it has a bottling plant, and another 1.1 million litres a day from a well in nearby Erin, Ont.

Nestlé Waters Canada has said it wants to partner with Centre Wellington on the well the company purchased.

A bigger look at the industry

Nestlé has also previously said that it would be prepared to pay more for permits if rates were increased, but only if all companies with water-taking permits face the higher fees.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, however, has spoken over the past several months about the difference between taking water for agricultural or industrial use and taking it to sell in bottles.

Nestle Waters Sign

Nestle Waters Canada's plant in Aberfoyle bottles and packages 56 million cases of spring water a year. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"I really think we need to look at the culture around bottled water," she said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.

"Why are we all drinking water out of bottles when most of us don't need to?...I think we need to have a bigger look at the whole industry, and our role in regulating it." 

Total ban won't work

But critics say simply charging companies more won't protect the water, while some environmentalists are pushing for a total ban on giving permits to companies that remove the water for bottling.

Environmental group Wellington Water Watchers has said that increasing the price for permits for bottled water companies won't address concerns about water use.

"No price would be high enough to stop some companies from doing what they're doing because the profits are so high," Water Watchers chair Mike Nagy has said

The Canadian Bottled Water Association has said that making bottled water more expensive for producers would only end up making it more expensive for consumers.

British Columbia charges $2.50 for every million litres, while Quebec charges $70.

Municipalities, mines, construction companies and golf courses – in addition to the water-bottling companies – are allowed to take a total of 1.4 trillion litres out of Ontario's surface and ground water supplies every day.

A rare look inside Nestlé's Aberfoyle water bottling plant2:32