Province needs water management program to protect resource, says city of Guelph

Council approved eight recommendations, which will now be sent to the provincial government to help with the water-taking permit review that is underway.

'We were heard, the province is responding,' Coun. James Gordon says

Guelph city council has approved eight recommendations that will be sent to the province to help inform the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change as it reviews water taking permits for water bottling companies in the province. (CBC)

The Ontario government needs to be vigilant when it comes to reviewing water taking permits and should prevent the misuse of water, Guelph city council decided in approving comments that will now be sent to the province.

Council unanimously approved eight staff recommendations Monday night.

"I was very pleased that the staff, I think, captured what the will of the community was," Coun. James Gordon told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Wednesday. "There is a hope in the community that this will have a direct effect."

One of the recommendations council is making asks the province to develop an evidence and principle-based comprehensive water management program.

As well, council supported the province's moratorium on issuing new, or increasing current permits for water bottling until Jan. 1, 2019. Guelph staff were also directed to continue to promote drinking tap water, and educate residents on how not to waste water.
Protesters gathered in Guelph, Ont., before a Guelph city council meeting in September where the issue of water bottling was being discussed. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Original motion withdrawn

Gordon initially proposed a motion that would ask the province to stop Nestlé from taking water in Aberfoyle.

That motion, which was amended at the Sept. 26 meeting, was withdrawn Monday night.

But although Monday's results are not the ones Gordon had initially proposed, he said people are pleased because they know their voices have been heard.

"We were heard, the province is responding," Gordon said, pointing to a number of protests and rallies in regards to people's concerns with water bottling.

Issue important to Guelph

The issue "looms just outside our city limits," as Nestlé has a water bottling plant just outside the city in Aberfoyle. Nestlé applied to renew a permit for its Aberfoyle facility. The permit to take water expired July 31, but the renewal has yet to be posted on the provincial government's website for comment.

Nestlé is allowed to continue taking water under that expired permit until the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change makes a decision to renew or change it.

The permit has become a flashpoint in a battle between environmentalists, community leaders and corporate interests, particularly after it was revealed Ontario only charges bottled water companies $3.71 per million litres of water.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has asked the province's environment minister to review permit conditions for all bottlers of water.

Nestlé has said it also wants to protect the resource.

"I'm here to make sure we're operating in a sustainable way," Andreanne Simard, Nestle's chief hydrologist, told CBC News during a tour of the Aberfoyle plant in October. "That we're not showing any negative declining trends in the surrounding ecosystem, the neighbouring wells and making sure the groundwater resource is sustainable and there forever."
Andreanne Simard is Nestle's chief hydrologist and her job is to ensure the food giant's bottling operations are sustainable in order to preserve ground water "forever." (Jon Castell/CBC News)

'Our voice matters'

Gordon hopes the province will take the council's stance on the issue into consideration as it reviews water taking permit regulations.

"[The province knows] that their current water taking regulations do not reflect what is happening right now, with our growth projections and with drought, so all that we can hope for as a city is that the province will listen to what we are recommending to them and that will show up in the new regulations," he said.

The recommendations approved Monday night will now be forwarded to the province. But Gordon said they will need to go through the process again once the province posts Nestlé's permit to take water at the Aberfoyle plant for comment.

And when it does, he has no doubt residents will be there to give their opinion.

"Guelph, I think, has shown leadership around environment, around making sure that corporate interests don't come before community interests and it became a bit of a symbol for us," he said. "I think there's a general feeling in the community that, 'OK, we can do something with this. Our voice matters.'"


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