It’s been an amazing journey these last few months working with our wonderful, INFORMED community towards our city response to the province on water taking issues. The public engagement around this has been overwhelming, proving that protection of our most precious resource is of utmost importance to us all. I want to thank everyone who took part. Over 1000 emails. Over 30 delegations. Massive coverage in the press. I think the unprecedented response from the public and from our staff, ( thanks staff!) has already had a positive impact on the province. Your voice matters. The concern and the sense of urgency you shared resulted in positive steps like the moratorium on new permits and the promise to not re-issue permits until comprehensive new regulations are in place. I am grateful to the province for their pro-active response.
City water staff prepared a very detailed report. The biggest take-away from this was their calculation, given our future growth predictions, and the risks associated with climate change, that our community water needs may be in conflict with the Nestle Aberfoyle water taking in the future. Our Intergovernmental staff has delivered what I think is an excellent report capturing all the commentary and submissions involved in this process. Their main messaging is consistent with what I’m hearing in the community and from our greatest water advocates, the Wellington Water Watchers, which is that community or public water needs must have priority over corporate water taking activities. I will be recommending that we approve their report, with a couple of minor amendments, one of which is to be very clear that any decisions made about water use must be done with the full consultation of our original stewards of our water, our indigenous people.
I am very pleased that staff has recommended that our decision making process be evidenced-based AND principle based. We can’t have one without the other, and I’d like to add another factor that I’m hearing strongly from our community. I recently took part in a very moving aboriginal water ceremony under an extra large grandmother moon. That experience helped clarify for me that we need to acknowledge that many of us want our most precious resource protected from corporate interests because of its sacred, spiritual quality. It’s at our core, so we want our values and principles, our intimate connection with water, to also be at the core of all our decisions.
Here’s something I heard frequently from the public. If we are sharing our water for business purposes, ( and that’s how Guelph got here, using our two beautiful rivers to power our mills which were our first industries, ) we want those businesses to provide some value for the water they take. Bottled water offers NO added value. It’s packaging something we can have for free from our tap, just as safely; it’s just as convenient and portable if we bring along a refillable container. The packaging up of our own water and selling back to us at 600% profit is a very clever marketing ploy that has convinced a generation that there is some use other than in emergency situations for this product. It’s offering nothing that we need, which is why water bottling is referred to as a ‘frivolous’ use. It was suggested by one councilor that if we consider that a frivolous use, why aren’t we questioning splash pads and swimming pools too? Splash pads, for instance, provide a valuable community service, cooling us in the summer and providing a welcome recreational activity that increases our quality of life. Bottled water, on the other hand, is not only unnecessary but it encases that water in plastic which is a blight on our environment and adds a cost to our taxpayers to clean up the discarded and often not recycled bottles. It leaves our water shed with a net loss to our supply, and despite a claim made by a paid lobbyist for the bottling industry, bottles made in Aberfoyle ARE found all over the world. Its only local benefit is in the jobs it provides, and we must be very clear that when the day comes, and we know it WILL , that our community needs take precedence over consumptive water use, we must make sure that a robust programme for transitioning those jobs take place.
Though every delegate to appear before council expressed concern about the validity of corporate water taking except those paid to defend it, I think it’s important to clarify that we do not need to assess blame to water bottling companies when it is in fact our own government, with their out-of-date regulations, that has allowed this activity to take place. That’s why we are encouraging the premier to introduce regulations that accurately reflect the public will in this matter.
I am hearing that we must not focus our attention on one particular water bottler and that the discussion needs to be about water bottling in general. I would agree with this, and yet, and yet, the reason that many people have focused their attention on the Nestle Corporation is that, for one thing, that’s the water taking permit that is up for renewal, so we MUST refer to them. Secondly, there is a feeling that if we want to share stewardship of our water with a corporation, we want that company to demonstrate best practices scientifically AND ethically. Nestle’s website states that they sell ‘water you can trust’ and yet for many, it’s hard to place our trust in a company that has demonstrated world-wide a LACK of proper stewardship, most recently in California and Michigan. So I can’t blame corporations for taking water legally, until we change the laws, and I can’t blame our citizens for showing their concern about a particular bottler. The Nestle permit renewal has not been opened by the ministry for commentary yet, so we’ll be doing this all over again when that time comes.
I look forward to this ongoing dialogue, it has proven the efficacy of grassroots democracy, and I thank you all once again for the accomplishments we can collectively take credit for.
I’ll end with a quote that sums things up nicely:
“To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life” (Rev 21:6)
Yes folks, our water should not be for sale. Water IS life!
Thank you! James