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Recently, the Township of Centre Wellington—a small, growing municipality in Ontario—lost a bid for rights to a well, and potential drinking water supply for its residents. Surprisingly, it lost its bid for the well to Nestle Waters Canada, Canada’s largest distributer of bottled water. Nestle does appear to have plans to use the water in the immediate future, but rather will rely upon it as a backup supply for its nearby plant in Aberfoyle and so as to ensure “future business growth.”

Many questioned how a municipality could lose a bid for access to a potential municipal water source to a private corporation. Nestle had been eyeing the site for some time, and had made a conditional offer to the vendor, Middlebrook Water Company, back in 2015. When it discovered that another bidder had appeared, Nestle waived its conditions and proceeded with the purchase.

The province of Ontario makes its water supply available  to many forms of industry—including the bottled water industry—at negligible cost. The province reportedly charges bottling companies $3.71 per one million litres of water that is taken. Currently, Nestle is permitted to take up to 3.6 million litres of water per day at its source in Aberfoyle, near Guelph.

British Columbia only recently started charging Nestle for water. In British Columbia, Nestle must now pay $2.25 per one million litres of water, whereas it previously was not required to pay anything. The decision to charge even this nominal amount was only brought about as the province struggled last year with drought and forest fires.

Concerns over the impacts of water extractions by bottling companies has been heating up in recent years. In Ontario, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change is facing intense pressure to decline the renewal of Nestle’s recently expired permit to take water at its Aberfoyle facility.

In California, Nestle has been battling a lawsuit that seeks to challenge its authority to operate a water pipeline located in the San Bernardino forest. As the state grapples with record periods of sustained drought and wildfires, many have become concerned that the company’s yearly extraction of tens of millions of gallons of water—for which it pays $524 per year—is placing considerable pressure on local ecosystems and operates at the expense of local users.

As contentious as these debates are becoming, we have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for bottled water, which continues to reap record revenues year after year. Some have estimated that bottled water will soon outsell all other non-alcoholic beverages (such as soft drinks) in the US.

Fresh water supplies are expected to become increasingly scarcer as a result of climate change. Droughts and salinization of fresh water supplies are expected to become more commonplace as a result of coastal erosion and changes in weather patterns.

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