Sunday, August 21, 2016, 5:16 PM - Activist group Wellington Water Watchers have caused quite a stir on social media. The environmentalists are urging government officials against renewing a water-taking permit amid severe drought in Ontario.
The group has started a campaign online with the slogan "water for life, not for profit." The activists say Nestlé’s permit to take water in Aberfoyle, Ont., expired July 31, but the company has been allowed to continue taking water in the midst of the drought.
Wellington Water Watchers claim the Ministry of Environment did not post the renewal application for public comment, which they usually do for 30 days. Instead, they granted Nestlé an automatic extension without any consultation with local residents.
Meanwhile, the ministry says the extension was granted because of a provision in the legislation that allows for an extension if there is a delay in the process on the part of the regulator. The water-taking permit remains in place if a renewal application is made at least 90 days before it expires and once supporting documents have been reviewed, Nestlé's application will be posted for comment, according to the ministry.
In a press release, Nestlé Waters Canada wrote:
“Although our permit expired on July 31, 2016, we have received confirmation from the MOECC that during this application phase, under the Ontario Waters Resources Act, Section 34.1 (6), the existing Permit to Take Water remains intact until the MOECC moves forward on a decision. We will continue to operate as usual.”
The company says as part of the normal process, they submitted an application for renewal of the existing permit to the ministry on April 11.
"Our factory in Aberfoyle has operated for the last 15 years sustainably and Nestlé Waters is not asking to increase the permitted water taking limit – Nestlé Waters is applying to maintain the current permit level over a 10 year period," the release reads.
According to documents on a ministry website, Nestlé Canada has three permits, which allow the company to extract a total of 8.3 million litres of water each day for bottling. Meanwhile, Nestlé Waters Canada, a division of Nestle Canada, has six Ontario permits allowing them to take out a further 12 million litres each day.
The ministry has a map online showing all of the water-taking locations linked to active permits across the province with southern Ontario in particular, covered by a sea of blue dots. Several other companies with large water-taking permits in the province include Gold Mountain Springs at 6.1 million litres a day and Gott Enterprises at 5.8 million litres, The Canadian Press reports.
For every million litres of water, Ontario charges companies $3.71 after paying a permit fee of $750 for low or medium-risk water takings, or $3,000 for those considered high risk.
The amount these companies pay for taking out water represents 1.2 per cent of the government’s total water-quantity management costs. A number of people, including former environmental commissioner Ellen Schwartzel, have criticized the ministry for not raising the amount to take such large quantities of water.