Let's say NO SALE to Nestle Waters Canada

A\J Photo Illustration by Veronika Szostak

UPDATE: The deadline for commenting on the Ontario government's possible moratoriam on future water-taking permits has passed. However, you can send your thoughts to the Minister and team by clicking through the link on their recent announcement:

Ontario Taking Action to Protect Clean Water

***

(With files from Jack Parkinson and Veronika Szostak)

 

Water is the driver of Nature.

- Leonardo da Vinci

When the well's dry, we know the worth of water.

- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), Poor Richard's Almanac, 1746

It was a hot day in July 2016 as the Greyhound bus pulled through downtown Guelph, Ontario. There hadn't been much rain during the summer and, as a result, the City of Guelph had to implement water bans for extended periods throughout the months of high heat. After making a quick stop at uGuelph, the bus continued down Brock Road towards the 401 - and eventually Toronto.

As the bus neared the 401, about 12 km from downtown Guelph, we passed through Aberfoyle, Ontario, home of Nestle Waters Canada.

Now, I don't know about you but when I think of sources of fresh, clean bottled water, my mind pictures bucolic valley streams or bubbling mineral baths in some natural spa setting. Aberfoyle isn't what you'd call 'bucolic'. In fact, apart from the Antique Market and the local restaurant, the rest of Aberfoyle looks like a highway rest-stop, with ample services for commerical trucks and a full transit hub that connects local buses with GO Trains and the rest of the connected rail infrastructure. Oh, and the big Nestle Waters Canada bottling plant and head office (centre of the photo below).

But what Aberfoyle, Ontario may lack in natural charms, it more than makes up for it by being the best location to access the aquifer that provides the fresh water that Nestle bottles and sells to millions of Canadians. In fact, in the documents in support of Nestle Water Canada's renewal of their water-taking permits, it was divulged that Nestle Waters can take up to 20 million litres of freshwater each and every day.

That's a lot of water and a lot of plastic bottles to put alll the water in - but it is much harder to demonstrate any real financial benefit. Per the permits, Nestle Waters Canada only pays the regional water authority $3.71/million litres of water (roughly $0.000004/litre) or $74.20 each day for the 20 million litres removed. On an annualized basis, Nestle Waters Canada will pay just over $27,000 to pump out 7.2 billion litres of water from Aberfoyle, Elora and other locations in the area. Keep in mind that Nestle Waters Canada sells their 1.5 litre bottles at approximately $2.00/bottle, or sells 12-packs of 1.5 litres at a cost of $0.60/litre (at retail price). That's a great deal for Nestle Waters, not such a good deal for area residents and concerned citizens.

Leaving aside the environmental arguments against this water-taking permit renewal and the broader debate about the logic of using billions of plastic bottles as packaging - we will get to those - when you compare the costs for Nestle Water Canada (not too mention the profits) against the cost for residents of the City of Guelph to access water, you start to see just how bad this deal is shaping up to be and why so many Canadians are fighting against the permit renewal.

***

Guelph, Ontario is a lovely university town with a refined and historic downtown core, a growing population that befits its location as a convenient commuting hub for the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area, and a tradition of supporting environmentalism and other community-building initiatives. 

Downtown Guelph Ontario

Downtown Guelph Ontario

According to the 2011 Census, Guelph has a population of 121,688, and has 54,868 private dwellings. And based upon 2011 City of Guelph statistics, the average citizen used 184 litres per day of water, with a city-wide total in excess of 22 million litres of water per day. Interestingly, that number is very similar to the total daily allotment of water-taking being considered under Nestle Waters Canada permit renewal application (20 million litres/day). 

The citizens of Guelph have been working hard to conserve their water and have, since 2007, residents of Guelph have reduced their water use by 17 litres per person per day. That's quite admirable and should give Guelph residents a sense of pride in their conservation efforts. They might not be quite so happy, however, it they compare the cost of water that each of them pays against the cost that Nestle pays for extracting water from the same aquifer.

The 2016 water rates for the City of Guelph is $1.59/cubic metre of water, and each cubic metre equals 1,000 litres. Therefore, with 22 million litres equalling 22,000 cubic metres of water, the citizens of Guelph collectively pay $34,980 PER DAY for water. As a reminder, Nestle Waters Canada will pay just over $27,000 PER YEAR to access almost the same amount of fresh water - and will turn that $27,000 'investment' into literally tens of millions of dollars of profit.

That's not a fair deal for Guelph citizens. It's not a fair deal Ontario residents. And it's not fair and respectful to our finite and limited natural resources, of which water is the most important to our species' continued survival.

***

There was an interesting news article making the rounds this summer about the demise of the Wooly Mammoths from Alaska's St. Paul Island. "Freshwater resources look like the smoking gun for what pushed them into this untenable situation," study co-author Matthew Wooller,  director of the Alaska Stable Isotope Facility at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. According to the study, "The causes of reduced freshwater availability on St. Paul are less certain, with likely factors including sea level rise, climate change, and resource overuse."

Scientists and environmentalist have known for a long time that we, as a species, are using too much water.

Mother Earth News reminds that "Aquifers, lakes and river water levels are in sharp decline, people are drilling deeper wells and there is an increase in the number of buildings that have cracked basements and foundations. How is all of this related to global warming?

Only 2.5 percent of the planet’s water is fresh water and two third of this fresh water is tied up in glaciers, ice caps and permafrost. Most of the remaining fresh water is in aquifers. All this amounts to less than three tenths of one percent of the total liquid fresh water being on the surface. Fresh water is in short supply and global warming is making it even scarcer."

2012 Stanford University study highlighted that "Climate change threatens freshwater source for billions", with "snowpack, an essential source of drinking water and agricultural irrigation for billions of people, could shrink significantly within the next 30 years."

And a 2013 United Nations study clearly demonstrated the threats and dangers of our vicarious relationship with vitally-needed water, including:

  • 85% of the world population lives in the driest half of the planet.
  • 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation
  •  up to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.

You may also have read recently about the American city of Waukesha, Wisconsin and its bid to draw 10 million gallons of fresh water from Lake Michigan every day - and the significant pushback from local mayors, local dignitaries, Great Lakes protection groups and freshwater conservation organizations to the proposal.

Water is THE MOST important natural resource that sustains our species and, as you've read, we're losing access to more and more due to the impacts of climate change and global warming. The problem will just get worse as the years go by, global temperatures rise and the planet's snowpack and permafrost melts. Today, we should be doing everything in our power to protect and conserve this 'fountain of life'. And what we sure as heck shouldn't be doing is allowing multinational corporations to extract fresh, clean water from our country's aquifers at a rate drastically less than what an average Canadian pays to access the same water resources in their local home towns. Like Aberfoyle...and Guelph.

***

The Nestle Waters Canada bottling plant and head office at 101 Brock Rd S in Aberfoyle Ontario is located on a well-manicured, very-green lawn (in comparison with the lawns in Guelph, for example). It's almost like they have so much water - and pay so little for it - that they can hydrate the facilities' lawns and other green spaces with the artisanal well water that they draw from the aquifer. At $74 a day for 20 million litres - and turning that $74 investment into millions of daily profits - Nestle Waters Canda truly can afford to be profligate in their water usage. The rest of us? With rising water rates, definitely not.

Granted, this organization has an interesting perspective on water and fundamental human rights. According to the former CEO and now Nestle Chairman, Peter Brabeck, corporations should own every drop of water on the planet — and you’re not getting any unless you pay up. In a video with the title: “Nestlé Chairman: Water Not a Right, Should Be Given a ‘Market Value’ and Privatized," Brabeck suggests that declaring water a right is ‘extreme’ and asserts that water is a foodstuff best valued and distributed by the free market. This from an organization that "has had a long history of disregarding public health and abusing the environment to take part in the profit of an astounding $35 billion in annual profit from water bottle sales alone."

So what can a concerned citizen do if they don't want this permit renewal to proceed? Talk to your local MP, MPP and regional representatives. Tell them that a multinational corporations making $35 billion a year from water bottle sales should NOT be paying only a fraction of what an average citizen pays to access the same water from the same aquifer. Sign a petition or consider helping out the good folks at the Wellington Water Watchers, a group dedicated to the protection, restoration and conservation of drinking water in Guelph and Wellington County. 

Oh, and this one seems like a no-brainer, but let's stop buying bottled water in general, and Nestle Water (and its private label affiliates....look for the 'made in Aberfoyle on the private labels from your grocers, etc.) in particular. Tap water is just as healthy and comes from the same source. You'll be cutting out the multibillion-dollar multinational corporate middleman - and saving money AND water in the process. 

Let's all drink to that!

 

 

David McConnachie is A\J's publisher.

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