Nestle has recently outbid the Township of Central Wellington, a community of several small towns, including Elora and Fergus, for water rights to a local well. The bid by the world’s largest food company has prompted protests and threats of boycott.
The issue of water rights in Ontario — which already hosts a large Nestle bottling plant in nearby Aberfoyle — has become particularly heated following a record-setting period of extreme drought in the province this summer, a level of dryness only matched once, in 1955, since record-keeping began in 1938.
The Township of Central Wellington is centered on an ancient glacial moraine, and relies entirely on groundwater to supply its residents, who are frequently subject to water-rationing bylaws. Nestle, meanwhile, is allowed to pull 3.6 million liters of water per day from that same supply in Aberfoyle. For perspective, that’s roughly enough water to supply the nearby city of Guelph, population 121,688, for approximately a month.
According to The Weather Network, township mayor Kelly Linton said that “we really wanted to make sure that we guaranteed control of our water source for our municipality,” and that the township is planning future growth.
“We’re facing some significant growth in Centre Wellington, and we want to be sure that any kind of water taking that’s outside of the municipal water taking, is not going to impact our ability, in 40 years time, to look after our community.”
The township is currently looking into the possibility of drilling a new well, having lost their bid to Nestle.
Nestle had the right of first refusal, and according to the Huffington Post, was able to match the township’s offer, putting the existing well out of their reach, financially. According to a Nestle spokesperson, they were unaware that they were competing with a municipality, but matched the competing bid when they were informed of it. This also meant making their bid unconditional; previously, they had demanded a test of the water to ensure it met their standards, among other conditions.
The move has drawn criticism from activist group The Council of Canadians, who called for a boycott of Nestle, and Ontario’s Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne. According to The Globe And Mail, Wynne is urging changes in Canada’s water bottling regulations.
Maude Barlow, chairperson of The Council of Canadians, also pointed out that in accordance with their water rights permit, “bottled water giant Nestlé continues to extract four million litres of groundwater every day from an aquifer near Guelph.”
“Nestle pays less than $15 per day for this precious resource and then ships it out of the community in hundreds of millions of single use plastic bottles for sale all over North America — at an astronomical mark up.”
The average household in Guelph pays over $300 per year for approximately 0.009 percent of the water that Nestle pulls daily — and a spokesperson for Nestle said that the new well was purchased both as a “supplemental well for future business growth” and as backup for the Aberfoyle facility.
According to The Province, the new Nestle well is also situated near a First Nations reserve where 11,000 residents do not have access to clean running water.
Premier Wynne, in response, said that her government will be looking at ways to put community needs ahead of water bottling corporations.
“As we look at the water bottling industry, that has to be a question because we’re talking about what we could argue is our most precious resource.
“There is much pressure on our water, so as we have this discussion about our water, the status of and the treatment of water bottling companies, that needs to be taken into consideration.”
Environment critic Peter Tabuns, of the NDP party, echoed the premier’s sentiments.
“The danger is you’ll have private companies squatting on water rights, effectively denying citizens access to their water unless they pay a ransom.”
Wynne also said that it was time to draw a legal line between industry in general, and water bottlers specifically.
“It’s not good enough from my perspective to say there’s lots of industries that need water. Water bottling is a different kind of industry and we need to treat it differently.”
[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]