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Same water, different bottle: water advocates react to Nestlé sale

'It doesn’t solve the problem at all' said chair of Wellington Water Watchers
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Nestlé Canada's bottling plant and head office in Puslinch. File photo

It’s been years of Nestlé Canada extracting water from Wellington County and with that, years of water advocates demanding that it stop. 

After Nestlé Canada agreed to sell the Nestlé Pure Life bottled water plants in Aberfoyle, Hope, B.C. and a well in Erin to Ice River Springs, water advocates in Guelph say it doesn’t address the problem of water extraction for profit. 

“It doesn’t solve the problem at all,” said Robert Case, chair of the Wellington Water Watchers’ board.

Case said that the fight for water is a regulation issue and not an issue about which company owns the permits. 

He said Nestlé Canada stepping away is a sign that advocacy is working and not for profit organizations will need to push harder to put a stop to the sale of water. 

“As much as we’re pleased with Nestlé running for cover, we don’t really see much of a change with how the industry operates,” said Case. 

Established in 1995, Canadian company Ice River Springs is one of the largest water bottling companies in North America. 

Despite its claim to be the first beverage company in North America that collects blue box materials to produce 100 per cent of its recycled plastic bottles and using no new plastic, Case says its efforts will not make a large difference in the environment or in what the Wellington Water Watchers is fighting for.

“We know that once those water bottles they produce just like the Nestlé water bottles go out to the public, there’s only a small percentage of them that return to recycling,” said Case. 

“Most of them will end up in landfills, streams and ditches and clogging up water waste just like Nestlé’s bottles do now. Nestlé has always said their bottles are 100 per cent recyclable, the problem is, they never make it to recycling.”

The provincial government’s moratorium on new and expanded water bottling permits comes to an end in October and Case said a lot of future activism depends on the moratorium being lifted or extended. 

“For us, it really doesn’t make a difference who owns it. It’s a sale,” said Jan Beveridge, of SaveOurWater.CA.

“Nothing has really changed as far as Save Our Water goes.”

Although not included in Nestlé Canada's  press release, Beveridge said the Middlebrook well that Nestlé bought in 2015 is included in the sale. 

“It really isn’t going to change anything for us if there’s still a proposal for water bottling,” said Beveridge.

She said her organization, however, is very pleased to hear the province’s recent changes to their regulations that would give municipalities a greater say in allowing companies to withdraw groundwater in their communities for bottled water.

The proposed provincial changes include requiring water bottling companies to have the support of their host municipalities for new and increasing bottled water taking, establishing priorities of water use in the province, assessing multiple water takings in areas of the province where water sustainability is a concern and making water taking data available to the public.

“This is huge,” said Beveridge of the regulations giving them a voice. 

“Our council has already passed a resolution that Centre Wellington is not a willing host community for water taking for the purpose of water bottling under any circumstances and that under any circumstances would be regardless of who wants to take the water.”

Through a recent risk assessment report by Matrix Solutions Inc, for the Grand River Conservation Authority, Beveridge said the area has already been identified as being at significant risk for future water sources. 

Vi Bui, water campaigner for the Council of Canadians said the organization is cautious that the future of water taking from Canada is not over and is a fight that will continue. On the flip side, she said this is also a story of significant community success that came from individuals being persistent in their fight. 

“Our supporters across the country as well as folks on the ground like Wellington Water Watchers and Save Our Water have been fierce and persistent advocates for protecting water and fighting Nestlé for the last almost a decade,” said Bui.

“Council of Canadian supporters across the country have also stood in solidarity. We launched a massive boycott campaign that has resulted in also the decline in bottled water sales.”

She said ultimately, this is a David and Goliath story of a community standing up to a large corporation in order to protect and save their water for their community. 

“That is a victory as activists and advocates we don’t celebrate enough,” Bui.