Congratulations to Ecojustice for successfully defending drought restrictions in a water taking permit against the combined forces of the Ministry of the Environment and the giant water bottler, Nestle Canada.
Nestlé is allowed to pump and package 1.13 million litres of groundwater per day in Hillsburgh in Wellington County [free of charge – another reason not to buy bottled water] under a Ministry of the Environment Permit To Take Water. The MOE put restrictions on Nestle’s right to take the water in drought conditions, and Nestle appealed the conditions.
Wellington Water Watchers, Ecojustice and the Council of Canadians intervened in the appeal to support the water taking restrictions, in light of the public interest in ground and surface water. Then, in February, Nestlé announced it had persuaded the Ministry to remove the mandatory reductions from its permit to take water. This agreement was successfully challenged before the Environmental Review Tribunal of Ontario by Ecojustice and the community groups. In August, the Tribunal ruled that the settlement agreement between Nestlé and the Ministry was not in the public interest and that the original appeal should proceed to a full hearing.
Instead, Nestle abandoned its appeal, and accepted the restrictions in its original permit that require it to reduce its water takings during drought conditions. On September 17, Nestlé announced that it was withdrawing its appeal. On October 8, the Environmental Review Tribunal accepted Nestle’s withdrawal, and closed the file.
“Nestlé’s water takings and the lack of groundwater regulation in British Columbia have come under public scrutiny over the last couple of months. The company withdraws up to 265 million litres a year for free from a well in Hope, B.C.
The movement to promote the human right to water and public water services recently spread to Switzerland where Nestlé is headquartered. Bern, Switzerland recently became the first Blue Community outside of Canada. The Blue Communities Project, launched by the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, designates municipalities Blue Communities when municipal governments pass resolutions to ban bottled water from municipal facilities, recognize water as a human right to water and promote public not-for-profit water and sanitation services.
Wellington Water Watchers, Ecojustice and the Council of Canadians have sent a letter to the Minister of the Environment urging reforms to Ontario laws and policies needed to adequately protect Ontario’s rivers, lakes and groundwater. The groups’ recommendations include that the Ministry prioritize water uses, remove barriers to declaring a Level 3 drought and conduct cumulative impact assessments of water takings. Although the need for some of these reforms has been documented in previous studies, this case has again demonstrated the urgency of this need.