Kitchener-Waterloo

Water group urges Ontario to take more time as review ends on bottled-water company permits

A water advocacy group and a township in Wellington County are calling on the province to extend its moratorium on issuing new water-taking permits for bottled water companies, or increasing the limits of existing permits. Those requests come at the same time the government says it has completed its review of water taking policies.

'I don't think that it's something that should be rushed,' says Kelsey Scarfone of Environmental Defence

The province says it has completed a thorough review of our water taking policies, programs and science tools and officials 'will have more to say soon.' The government has placed a moratorium on new permits, or increasing existing permits, to take groundwater by bottled water companies. (CBC)

A water advocacy group and a township in Wellington County are calling on the province to extend its moratorium on issuing new water-taking permits for bottled water companies, or increasing the limits of existing permits.

Those requests come at the same time the government says it has completed its review of water taking policies.

Kelsey Scarfone, the water program manager for the group Environmental Defence, says they've launched a petition to ask for the moratorium to be extended beyond Jan. 1, 2020.

She says the province needs to make sure it gets public input on water-taking policies before moving forward.

"I do think that's extremely rushed," Scarfone said.

The science around groundwater is "extremely tricky," she says, and impacts not just the operations of bottled water companies but also the communities that rely on that water.

"It's OK to take our time when we're considering how to handle industries like this," she said.

"I don't think that it's something that should be rushed because not only was the science a piece of the moratorium, it was also looking at how are we going to handle this industry."

Province completes 'thorough review'

In order to carry out the review, the province placed a moratorium on issuing new permits, or increasing existing permits, that allow companies who bottle and sell water to take groundwater.

The moratorium was set to expire in January 2019, but it was extended for one extra year. Now, it's set to expire on Jan. 1, 2020.

"Extending the moratorium has given the province time to complete a thorough review of our water taking policies, programs and science tools to ensure that vital water resources are protected and sustainably used," Andrew Buttigieg, press secretary for Minister of the Environment Jeff Yurek, said in a statement to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

The statement did not give specific details on what will happen as of Jan. 1.

"We will have more to say soon," Buttigieg said.

When talking to reporters at Queen's Park on Thursday, Yurek said a decision on how to move forward has not yet been made.

"If we don't have a conclusive way to go forward, we will extend the moratorium, but I'm believing with all the consultation and the scientific study that's been completed that we'll have a definite answer," he said. "But if we need to extend it, we will extend it."

He said they're "looking at everything" including the science and "based on the effects on the community."

Nestlé purchased an already existing well on Middlebrook Road in Elora, Ont. The well's previous owners had provincial permission to pump up to 1.6 million litres of water per day. (CBC)

Township wants moratorium extended

The Township of Centre Wellington is also asking the province to extend the moratorium to 2023. 

Mayor Kelly Linton says council passed a resolution during Monday night's council meeting asking local MPP Ted Arnott to co-ordinate a meeting with Yurek "as a last ditch effort to try to extend that moratorium, if not for all of Ontario, at least for Centre Wellington."

"We're still pushing that until the very end," Linton said Wednesday.

Centre Wellington is home to the Middlebrook well, which was purchased by Nestlé Waters Canada in the summer of 2016. It was later learned the township had also tried to purchase the property where the well is located, formerly the Middlebrook Water Company.

The moratorium means Nestlé is unable to do any tests on the well and cannot pump from it.

Centre Wellington had wanted the property to protect the groundwater source. Linton says the township is growing in population, with new businesses and that water is needed to help with that growth.

Nestlé has said the well would be used as a "supplemental well for future business growth" and as a backup for its plant in Aberfoyle.

Nestlé has offered to form a partnership with the township over the Middlebrook well but those talks were cut off by township council, which said any kind of partnership deal couldn't be discussed until after the moratorium on new and increased water-taking permits was lifted.

The township recently completed a water supply master plan, which they'd like to present to Yurek, Linton said. Their goal isn't to block a company that is operating legally in the township, "it's because we want to make sure that we're looking after our long-term water requirements."

CBC reached out the Nestlé Waters Canada for comment and were directed to the Canadian Beverage Association.

The group's president, Jim Goetz, provided a brief statement.

"Ontario's bottled water sector sustainably and responsibly manages water resources both from municipal systems and groundwater sources," Goetz said. "We continue to work with the government during the review of the province's water quantity policies."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.