The pews were packed Thursday night at Harcourt United Church in Guelph to hear a sermon of sorts from Canadian author and water rights activist Maude Barlow about threats to the future and security of Canada’s water.
“We have what I call a myth of abundance and we all grew up believing the textbooks that said we have 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water,” said Barlow. “That is only true if you drain all the rivers and lakes. We have about 6.5 per cent of the world’s fresh water at a sustainable rate.”
She said those water resources are under threat from a variety of forces including climate change and pollution and that federal legislation meant to protect 99 per cent of our water resources is outdated and ineffective.
Barlow is the national chairperson for the Council of Canadian and has written several books about water. Her latest book Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse and Canada’s Water Crisis continues to raise alarms about threats to our water.
One of those threats, she said, is the proposed, cross-country Energy East pipeline that will transport bitumen from the Tar Sands in Alberta where, according to Barlow, 11 million litres of toxic waste is leaching into the groundwater of the Athabasca River each day.
“The pipeline will cross almost 3,000 waterways and put the drinking water of nearly five million Canadians at risk,” she said. “It’s not a case of whether this pipeline will break. It will break.”
Barlow warned that international trade agreements such as CETA the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement being negotiated between Canada and the European Union could limit our ability to protect our water and make it easier for multinational corporations such as Nestle to privatize and market our fresh water resources.
“Bottled water exports have been exploding around the world,” she said. “By 2020 bottled water companies will be selling 465 billion litres of bottled water a year and most of that will be in plastic bottles.”
Barlow and the Council of Canadians have been battling with Nestle for many years and a large part of the conflict has centred around Nestle’s water bottling operations in Aberfoyle.
The company, with permission from the provincial government, pumps more than four million litres of groundwater from the location each day. Their permit expired in June but they have been granted an extension while the province reviews their application to continue.
“The fight that is happening here is part of the global fight against Nestle,” said Barlow. “Tonight I want to announce that the Council of Canadians is launching a national boycott against Nestle.”
The boycott is being supported by Wellington Water Watchers whose executive director Arlene Slocombe, echoed Barlow’s calls for stronger legislation protecting water and for the province to revoke Nestle’s permits to take water from wells in Aberfoyle, Middlebrook and Hillsburgh.
Slocombe invited people to attend a rally at Guelph City Hall Monday, Sep 26 at 5pm to voice their opposition to Nestle and convince Guelph City Council to do the same.
“We have a multi-national predator in our midst,” said Slocombe. “We are not being fooled by their greenwashing.”
Slocombe said drought conditions throughout much of Canada this summer helped to galvanize public opinion about water.
“The story has broken open this summer and all the public support buoys those of us that have been at this for years,” she said. “We are all water watchers and we need support to meet the challenge while we have the momentum behind us.”