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U of G gets $460,000 from bottled water giant Nestlé Waters to study groundwater

But environmental watchdog Wellington Water Watchers question motives and timing of donation
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Nestlé Waters Canada has donated $460,000 to the University of Guelph towards groundwater research in Wellington County.

The money will go to the U of G-based G360 Centre for Applied Groundwater Research, which studies the interaction between groundwater and surface water, aimed at ensuring a safe and sustainable groundwater drinking supply.

“Protecting drinking water from harmful contamination and exploitation is a shared responsibility,” said U of G professor Beth Parker, who heads the G360 program and the project that will focus on the surrounding area.

Parker said that southern Wellington County will greatly benefit from the research, as knowledge and sustainable managment of the local water resources are essential for the region's development.

But not everyone feels the donation by Nestlé Waters is as altruistic as it might seem.

Local environmental non-profit water watchdog Wellington Water Watchers said it's hard to believe that Nestlé Waters doesn't have a vested interest.

"It's hard to imagine that Nestlé Waters doesn't have some business interest in this," said Robert Case of Wellington Water Watchers.

"Beth Parker is an excellent researcher and it's amazing they got this kind of funding for their research," Case said, "but the optics are really interesting."

Case, a University of  Waterloo professor, doesn't question the validity of the research to be done, more the timing and optics of the donation given that Nestlé is currently looking to increase limits at wells in Aberfoyle and Elora.

"I'm glad the U of G is getting the resources for the study, but it's not all about hydro-geological data. This issue is beyond science, there's a social science question here too," Case said.

Parker said research projects have several structural and professional safeguards built into them to protect them from corporate interference.

"Nestlé gets the importance of them being arms-distance away," Parker said, adding that they are not the only corporate donors to the research she does.

"There's some pros and some cons" to working with industry funding, Parker agreed.

"How we try to guard against being directed by any particular industry interests, at least in our group, is to try and work with more than industry or stakeholder group. So that it's driven more by scientific interests than their particular economic interests," Parker said.

Community outreach and education about the areas groundwater will be a big part of this project, she said.

"I want people to really appreciate the groundwater we have," Parker said in an interview. "People talk about trusting groundwater and preferring above ground water or piping in water from the Great Lakes. We have an amazing resource that's only 100 to 200 feet below us."

In a news release, Andreanne Simard, natural resources manager for Nestlé Waters Canada, said: “Nestlé strives to add value to the community, not only through its operations. Water sustainability is Nestlé’s NO. 1 priority and we are proud to support this research program that will contribute to the protection of this vital resource.”

G360 researchers hope to leverage this funding to obtain a federal municipal infrastructure grant.



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