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Save Our Water's petition to be presented by Mike Schreiner at Queen's Park next week

The Centre Wellington residents' group opposed to Nestlé Waters has gathered 3,500 names on its petition
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GuelphToday file photo

CENTRE WELLINGTON - MPP Mike Schreiner will be presenting Save Our Water’s petition to stop all new water taking permits by commercial water bottlers to Ontario Legislature at the end of this month.

There are roughly 3,500 names on the petition.

So far, 80 people have registered to go to Queen’s Park on Feb. 27 with Save Our Water, the Wellington County citizen's group opposed to Nestlé Waters Canada water bottling activities, for a media conference and then to hear the petition being read by Mike Schreiner to the Legislative Assembly. 

A moratorium on new permits ends Oct. 1, 2020. Nestlé is expected to apply for a permit to extract water from the Middlebrook Well it owns in Centre Wellington. Currently, Nestlé has permits for four wells in Canada, two in British Columbia. and two in Wellington County. 

The provincial Places To Grow At mandates that Centre Wellington double its population from 2016 to 2041. Jan Beveridge, spokesperson for Save Our Water, said this will put a huge strain on the water supply. 

“The proposal is to extract an amount of water that is the same amount used every day in Elora,” Beveridge said. “This adds a huge challenge to our township.”

In an email Nestlé Waters Canada disputed the idea of a plan to pump large amounts of water from the Middlebrook Well. 

“At present, Nestlé Waters Canada has no plans to pump any water from the Middlebrook Well,” said Andreanne Simard, natural resource manager at Nestlé Waters Canada. “The volume cited arises from a pump test conducted in 2004. This is a test we would like to replicate to better understand the sustainability of the resource.”

A report by engineering firm Matrix Solutions Inc. in November 2019 concluded Centre Wellington’s water quantity risk level to be significant.

“Because the water is at significant risk, any large scale water extraction for such a use, such as water bottling, is a significant threat to the municipal water system,” Beveridge said. 

Simard said Nestlé appreciates how seriously residents take water resource management and that company feels the same way. 

“That’s why we have worked so diligently with local and provincial government officials to ensure that decisions taken are in the broad public interest applied to all water users and based solely on verifiable science,” Simard said. “It is also important to understand that permits for bottling represent one tenth of one per cent of all the permits issued for the use of water in Ontario.”

Beveridge said they brought this petition to Schreiner as opposed to their local MPP Ted Arnott because as the Speaker of the House, he is unable to bring anything forward. Arnott suggested Schreiner would be the right choice to represent this cause. 

“I’ve been a strong advocate for changing Ontario’s water taking rules to prioritize water for people,” Schreiner said. “I think there is clear indication in the case of Centre Wellington, where the Save Our Water organization is based, they need access to additional water for the municipality as it grows.”

Schreiner also said he admires Save Our Water’s approach with this petition.

“My job as an MPP isn’t to target any one company and the petition doesn’t do that,” Schreiner said. “It speaks to the broader public policy issue around new permits for new commercial bottling operations.”

Another concern in the community is the lack of economic impact for Centre Wellington. Beveridge said this will not create a significant amount of jobs or tax revenue. This also ties into the province’s mandate for population growth which includes providing more jobs. 

“The target is for 9,000 new jobs and how can we have new jobs if a business is threatening our water?” she asked. “We need businesses that use water in an environmentally sound way.”

Simard said there is no basis to speculate about economic impacts because they are only looking to conduct tests.

“At this time all we have sought is a permit to conduct a pump test from the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks,” Simard said. “Its approval would allow us to understand more about that water source.”

Schreiner said he thinks the petition will be received well in legislature despite Ontario’s current government at times seeing water protection as “red tape.”

“I think most MPPs recognize the importance of prioritizing water taking for public purposes and critically to ensure our municipalities have access to an adequate supply of public drinking water,” Schreiner said. “I think water protection is vital especially in the age of climate change, growing population with increased demands for water that we need stronger protections in place from a public policy standpoint.”