Thoughts on Guelph’s water-taking issues

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

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Thoughts on Guelph’s water-taking issues

  1. Ron

    James,

    Water from the tap is not “free”. In fact , Guelph raised the water rates a couple years bsck because Guelphites were doing such an amazing job conserving water that revenues from water were below expectations.
    one question I have is where does Sleeman Brewery draw their water from and why isn’t anyone up in arms over that “frivolous” use of water? It is only beer after all and not essential to life like water is. Regardless of whether Sleeman has their own well or draws from city supplies , beer is as nonessential as bottled water.
    Also, according to an expose on water taking by CTV’s W5, Nestle hydrologists claim they are not over drawing water from the aquifer. It is in the corporation’s best interest to ensure the aquifer remains viable tosuppor/t the business.

  2. Hi Ron… You are correct.. our tap water is not free. It is however up to 1000 times cheaper for a glass of water from your tap than to purchase a bottle that is the exact same water. RE: Sleeman… What they do is called “value added”… the make something, beer, FROM the water, and it has a use to some, and as far as I know, beer does not come free from a tap, so Sleeman’s product is not comparable to water bottling since water bottlers don’t “Make anything”, it’s still the same water, so it serves no purpose other than profit. Sleeman’s pays for their city water just like you and i do, and if there are shortages in the future, we WILL have to examine ALL uses and prioritize. You are correct that we should look at their use when we need to, not just focus on Nestle… it so happens that Nestle’s permit has expired so that’s why we are talking about it now. You are correct about Nestle hydrologist claims too. I believe we need third-party monitering, not ‘self-monitering… would you agree?

    • Ron

      James,
      Thanks for your response. Regarding monitoring, I agree that Nestle’s own hydrologists may paint a rosier rather than realistic picture. It is , however, in Nestle’s best interest to ensure the aquifer remain viable for their bottling business to survive. I would think that the MOE would be responsible for monitoring the aquifer. They are the ones that issue tha water taking permits afterall. Not sure whom your”third party” would be. Wellington Water Watchers has a bias against Nestle so it cannot be anyone associated with that organization. While their intentions may be noble, objective third party monitoring may be advisable.
      I also agree that what they are paying for the water is a disgrace. If memory serves the CTV report stated it was around $3.20 per million litres.
      The whole reason bottled watersales have skyrocketed is a general distruslt of municipal water supply. Walkerton likely started the trend and with Flint Michigan recently making headlines it’s no wonder. Bottled spring water is not chlorinated nor flouridated like municipal supplies.

      The bottom line for me is Nestle is operating within the law. They are providing a product that people are obviously buying en masse. Is what Nestle doing ethical? I’m not one to answer that.

  3. jamesgordoncouncillor

    Thanks ROn… yes …Third party monitering for sure. Ironically, after Walkerton, our regulations as a province became so strict that municipal water supplies are more closely monitered that water bottlers… but you are right… the argument that Nestle puts forward that they are “safer” has been a very successful marketing campaign. You are correct that Nestle operates within the law… the issue at hand, I believe, is that perhaps it’s time to change those laws.

    • Ron

      Outlaw water bottling…..really? Thats pretty heavy handed when it has yet to proven they are over using the aquifer.
      It’s supply and demand marketing. If the public wouldn’t buy it, Nestle wouldn’t be in the business of selling it.
      Why not survey Guelphites to see how many drink bottled water and why. You may find an awful lot of people buy it.
      I think you would have better luck banning the sale of bottled water in Guelph. If your serious about elimnating battled water and the companies that supply it, try that and see if it gets traction.
      Imagine a Guelph without water bottles available for sale at every grocery store, department store, convenience store, fast food outlet etc.
      Guelph banned pesticide use so there is precedent.
      If you succeed, then you could lobby the government for a province wide ban.

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