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Water bottling company responds to allegations of backroom dealing

Nestlé Waters Canada says it is not in talks with Centre Wellington
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The Nestlé Waters Canada plant in Aberfoyle.

Nestlé Waters Canada responded Wednesday to allegations that it is involved in negotiations with Centre Wellington related to the development of the former Middlebrook Bottling Co. well near Elora.

Water protection groups Wellington Water Watchers and Save Our Water are holding a public meeting next Wednesday, 7 p.m., at the Royal Canadian Legion, 110 Metcalfe Street in Elora, to share details of what is being called a “scheme” involving the company and the township.

Water activists suggest the company is trying to skirt a two-year provincial moratorium imposed on new permits to take water and permits to test new wells, by seeking a backroom deal with the township.  

“Nestlé Waters Canada respects the moratorium enacted by the Ontario Government,” Jennifer Kerr, the company’s director, corporate affairs, said Wednesday by email, in response to questions. 

“We support the approach the Government is currently taking to understand and set in place science-based regulations that will sustain the shared water resources and environment that support the prosperity of our local communities and the province,” she wrote in an email.

Kerr added that on Dec, 12, “in an open and public forum,” Nestlé Waters Canada was provided an opportunity to discuss potential options and to determine the township’s interests in the Middlebrook water source. She was referring to a Centre Wellington council meeting held on that day.

 “We believe an open dialogue is the best way to collaborate in a manner that respects the interests of all stakeholders, and encourage people to continue to submit their comments and stay involved in the process,” Kerr added.

She said there have been no further discussions with Centre Wellington Mayor Kelly Linton or council members since the Dec. 12 presentation.

But the mayor and members of council, she added, have been invited to the company’s bi-weekly public office hours in the company’s Elora office, an offer that will continue throughout the year.

Opponents of  Nestlé’s local water pumping and bottling operation have mounted a strong campaign over the past year to put pressure on municipalities and the province to restrict the company’s activities.

A series of rallies, a march from Guelph to Aberfoyle, and a petition garnering tens of thousands of signatures took place throughout 2016. A motion also came before Guelph city council on the issue, calling on the city to formally disapprove of Nestlé’s activities. The matter is ongoing.   

Nestlé sealed an agreement to purchase a former Middlebrook Bottling Co. well near Elora, and then exercised an option to buy it outright last year when another buyer offered on it. The other offer came from the township.

Nestlé is seeking a 10-year renewal of its permit to take water in Aberfoyle and on a well near Erin, and plans to turned the Elora well into a supplementary water source for its Aberfoyle bottling plant, should the well prove viable.

Activists believe citizens should have first rights to the natural resource ahead of bottling for profit companies, arguing that bottling could potentially threaten the drinking water resource, especially during periods of drought.

The company maintains its it is a relatively small user of groundwater, and observes strict conservation measures.