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Both sides have their say at special council meeting on Nestlé Water issue

Council chambers packed for five-hour meeting on water taking
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Principles, passion, politics and science: Monday night's special council meeting on Nestlé Water’s Aberfoyle water taking operations, and water taking in general, covered all areas of the debate.

People on both sides of the highly-charged issue packed the 200-seat gallery in council chambers in the early going, with an overflow crowd watching via closed-circuit television in an adjoining room.

"Our job here tonight is to listen," Mayor Cam Guthrie said.

Over 30 people made their way to the podium to appear as delegates during the meeting, which lasted over five hours.

The special meeting was the culmination of events started by Coun. James Gordon’s motion that the city officially express concerns to the province regarding Nestlé’s latest water taking permit application that is before the provincial government.

Council has a recommendation on the table that asks city staff to take all the comments and information heard at Monday's meeting and prepare a resolution for council to send to the province. That recommendation was referred to council's Nov. 28 meeting.

Coun. Cathy Downer also asked staff to come back with more information on what amount of plastic water bottles actually get recycled.

Monday's delegates represented a wide range of interests: Wellington Water Watchers, Nestlé Waters Canada, First Nations, Guelph and District Labour Council, Canadian Beverage Association and a host of non-affiliated concerned citizens, some speaking from their hearts, some from their professional expertise.

“Science and principle should govern the process,” said Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario Green Party.

“Science should dictate how we manage our water. That being said, provincial principles should change and people’s drinking water should be the top priority,” Schreiner added when questioned by Coun. Dan Gibson.

“We see this type of water taking down in Aberfoyle, and others, as a frivolous use,” said Mike Nagy of Wellington Water Watchers, who have led the charge against Nestlé.

“Guelph is a hot spot for water taking,” Nagy said. “This is low hanging carbon fruit. We can no longer do this.”

About 75 workers from Nestlé Waters Canada in Aberfoyle showed up 90 minutes before the meeting started.

Gibson repeatedly hammered home the fact that science should dictate the decision making process, asking several delegates if they supported science-based fact.

“I haven’t heard anything from Wellington Water Watchers say anything about Guelph’s frivolous use of water,” Gibson said.

Pools? Splash pads? “Are there any solutions coming back from that,” Gibson asked delegate Nagy, accusing Wellington Water Watchers of just “throwing rocks over the fence.”

Jim Goetz, president of the Canadian Beverage Association, said the argument needs context, and that water as a beverage use accounts for 00.1 per cent of the total water withdrawal permits in Ontario.

“There are many industries that use much more groundwater than the bottled water industry and they don’t pay any fees,” Goetz said.

Monday’s meeting began with a presentation from city groundwater expert Dave Belanger on a city technical report on Nestlé’s current water taking permit and the city’s water master plan.

That report says that Nestlé’s Aberfoyle activities could eventually pose as a threat to Guelph’s water supply under certain extreme conditions and if the city grows as expected.

The city’s risk management plan could eventually include a new proposed well just south of the city.

Belanger said that Nestlé isn’t the only threat to the city’s future water supply, as the city itself is the biggest risk.

The city needs to look at all threats, from city usage to other industrial uses and golf courses, Belanger said.

Nestlé brought out the big guns in the form of Nestlé Waters Canada president Debbie Moore, who said the company doesn’t take more water than nature can replenish.

They are a socially-conscious company that uses a “holistic, thorough approach to water management,” Moore said.

“Nestlé Waters provides a healthy beverage choice produced sustainably in a community that supplies 300 high quality jobs,” Moore said.

“There was a lot of talk about the frivolous use of water,” Moore said. “Hydrating Canadians, we don’t do that as a frivolous use of water.

“There’s a role for tap water and there’s a role for bottled water.”

“Let’s let the passion drive us, the science ground us and let’s work together,” she said.

Nestlé’s natural resource manager, Adreanne Simard, then made a presentation to council detailing Nestlé’s commitment to sustainability.

“We only withdraw 840 million litres per year,” Simard said.

“We want to be part of the solution … for us, community always comes first,” Simard said.

Moore said 100 per cent is recyclable plastic and the company is reducing the quantity of plastic in those bottles.

They continue to try and increase the amount of bottles that are recycled, she said.

“There’s still more to be done,” she said, saying diversion rates need to be around 80 per cent.

The Mayor of Puslinch Township has implied that Puslinch wouldn’t support Guelph’s future water taking in Puslinch, which is where a well Guelph may want to utilize in the future sits.

“Based on the now-known significant impacts that Guelph’s water taking is having on Puslinch residents and potential impact on our industrial/commercial base, support for any additional water taking by Guelph in Puslinch is very unlikely,” Lever wrote in a letter to council.

A sampling of some of the other comments from Monday night's meeting:

“We need water. We do not need bottled water.” - Jasper (one of a group of children who spoke)  “Essentially, what we are seeing is the privatization of our water sources.” - Shayne Ward, chairman of Plastic Free Guelph

“I’m viewed as the enemy.” - Nestlé employee Jennifer Nikolasevic

“Nestlé is not a threat to either our quantity or quality of water under their current water taking." - Patrick Sheridan

“I don’t hate Nestlé. A big part of this body was built on Nestlé products.” - Joseph St. Denis

“Whose water is it and who gets to decide?” - Karen Rathwell

“What is going to happen to this earth if we don’t stand up and take care of it?” – Catherine Kormendy