Nestlé Waters Canada’s proposal to pump and truck water from a well in Centre Wellington and bottle it in Aberfoyle is a plan water protectors seem determined to prevent.
The Elora Legion Hall was filled to capacity Wednesday night as the groups Wellington Water Watchers (WWW) and SaveOurWater held an information session billed as urgent.
More and more chairs were set out to seat the incoming crowd until there were no more chairs to set out. It was standing-room-only after that. Over 200 were in attendance.
Ever since Nestlé purchased a former Middlebrook Water Co. well near Elora last year, an opposition movement has been gaining momentum. But when the company recently made overtures to Centre Wellington council, seeding the idea of a private-public partnership related to the well, alarm bells went off.
Mike Nagy, chair of WWW, said the massive, $110 billion company is noted for striking up such deals with municipalities around the world, but the arrangements turn out to be much more private than public.
He said the company’s signal to the township is “not a minor occurrence,” and that it should be met with “solidarity in united opposition.”
He warned that if such a PPP becomes a reality between Nestlé and Centre Wellington, it will come at great expense to public finances. The agreement will lack transparency and be steeped in secrecy.
Big corporations, he said, have deep pockets when it comes to legal budgets, and fighting provisions of the agreements, or getting out of them, can come with skyrocketing legal costs to public coffers.
Nagy said now is the time to fight any such agreement. The province is listening more than ever to growing concerns about bottled water. It has brought in a two-year moratorium on permits for new wells for bottling companies, and appears to be preparing to bring in tough new regulations.
Nagy and others who addressed the meeting said citizen action could definitely turn the tide on the issue. While Centre Wellington councillor Shawn Watters and Nagy said it is strictly a Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change decision whether Nestlé is permitted to pump Middlebrook, strong public input now could sway provincial decision-makers.
The township, Watters indicated, has a forward-looking perspective on the issue. It is mandated to nearly double its population in the coming years, and will be responsible for having the fundamental services in place for that growing population. Water is one of those essential services.
“Water has always been an underlying issue in Elora,” Watters said.
Watters said 15 years ago when Elora had to go looking for a new source of drinking water, finding a suitable well was not easy. There was talk of purchasing the Middlebrook well years ago, but the cost was prohibitive. Finding more water for a growing population may prove difficult.
He said it may not be in the best interests of the municipality to be in competition with a private water taker. He encouraged the crowd to keep talking to members of council to ensure that a strong local voice is heard at Queen’s Park.
Nagy said there is a global “remunicipalization” happening, whereby local governments have recognized the costs of public-private partnerships and are getting out of them. Concurrently, there is a growing level of partnership between municipalities to share resources, expertise, technical support, and training, all geared to improving efficiencies and building resilience.
Nagy and Donna McCaw of SaveOurWater said the province needs to hear loud and clear that the people of Centre Wellington and their many supporters across Ontario, Canada and the world, do not want a permit to take water issued for the Middlebrook well.
Libby Carlaw of SaveOurWater said “water is life, and fundamental to our existence.” The movement to protect it is growing.
“We have to protect these precious water sources,” she said. “With strength and unity we have to say, no.”
McCaw said Nestlé’s move in Elora has made the area a “water spotlight” for the world. People across Canada and around the world are watching.