The Ontario Water Resources Act (OWRA) coversa broad spectrum of environmental issues dealing specifically with water inOntario. The OWRA regulates if and howcompanies dispose of waste into the Ontario water system. It also regulatesextraction of potable ground water for bottling purposes. From the Act: “Taking ground water toproduce bottled water 2.
A person shall not use groundwater for the purpose of producing bottled water, in circumstances where section 34 of the Act prohibits theperson from taking the ground waterwithout a permit issued under section 34.1 of the Act, unless the person usesthe ground water in accordance with apermit that is in force, that authorizes the person to take the water for the purpose of producing bottled water and, (a) that was issued under section 34.1 of the Act beforeDecember 16, 2016; or (b) that was renewed or amended under section 34.1 of the Actbefore, on or after December 16, 2016. “(Law document english view) Asof January 1, 2017, there is a moratorium on any new permits being issued bythe Ontario government. Any permits thathad been issued previously are at this point expired, but that has not stoppedcompanies from pumping potable groundwater nor has the government done anythingto stop it. While this policy is ofgreat import, the implementation and follow up are negligible on the part ofthe government.
The Act also does not gointo specifics about what happens during a drought, or speak to thesustainability or renewability of water sources at extraction sights. The Act appears to be very short sighted inthis regard. For example, Nestle wasrecently able to purchase a well that Wellington, a town on the verge of hugegrowth, wanted in order to supply the towns drinking water. “…Nestlé hasused its financial muscle to outmanoeuvre a municipality trying to protect itswater supply: The multinational matched a bid by the Township of CentreWellington to secure a local well, guaranteeing Nestlé future water rights.Ontario’s Environment Ministry told The Canadian Press it couldn’t interfere ina “private transaction” under existing rules.
” (Nestle continues to draw waterfrom Ontario town..) Nestleis currently the largest food and beverage company in the world. Nestle Canada has large water extractionoperations across Ontario and in the past, had been issued permits that allowedthem to extract a total of 4.7 million litres of groundwater per day fromvarious sites, for a very small fee.
For this reason, Nestle, Nestle Canada andNestle Water has a stake in the Ontario Water Resources Act. Nestle and all companies involved in water extractionare currently operating with expired permits, even though the Act is veryspecific in its wording. They are actingillegally but aside from a small fine that they are easily able to pay, havefaced no repercussions or consequences for this behaviour. Nestle has also been accused of water extractionfrom an Ontario town, while they were going through a drought.
The lack of government intervention in thissituation makes them complicit in these crimes. Because they are crimes, Nestleand other companies that are extracting water are specifically in violation ofthe OWRA. Nestleis a stakeholder in the current OWRA as it lays out the guidelines they mustfollow that affects a significant portion of their business.
The Act currently detailslimitations on the amount of water that is allowed to be extracted from theground for bottling purposes; “Water taking 34 (1) Despiteany other Act but subject to section 47.3 of the EnvironmentalProtection Act, a person shall not take more than 50,000 litres of water onany day by any means except in accordance with a permit issued under section34.1.
2007, c. 12, s. 1 (8); 2009, c. 12,Sched. H, s. 1 (2).
” (Law document English views) The Act isvery convoluted in that it lays out specifics for the amount of water a permitholder can pump but also allows for the government to grant permits that wouldexceed that amount; 50,000 litres per day. Nor does it put a cap on the amountof permits a company can have. Nestlehas a total of 3 permits that allows them to pump out 8.3 million litres ofwater per day in Ontario. The OWRA doesnot go into specifics about regarding the price a company pays to extract water.
The current rate that companies pay toOntario for water extraction is $3.71/million litres. This is an obscenely lowamount, considering that water is integral to humanities survival and that Nestle,and other companies make huge profits off of Ontario’s waters. Nestle as acompany understands this and has released statements which support a rateincrease. It is incumbent upon the government of Canada, specifically Ontario,to make changes to this act that would be in the best interests of the peopleand the environment. Nestlessupport of a price raise seems to mainly be a branding/marketing move toassuage the public. Because while the Act clearly states that it is illegal topump ground water, Nestle continues to do so, while paying off any minimalfines that they acquire.
While Nestle clearly has no qualms withworking outside Ontario law, this Act seems to benefit them regardless. Becauseof the stipulation in the Act which states, that the Act can be overridden byacquiring a permit, Nestle is not beholden to the 50,00 0 litre per dayextraction limit. One of Nestles permitswas amended to include an extraction limitation during a drought. Extractionwas to be limited by 10% during a level 1 drought and 20% for a level 2drought. Nestle fought against the mandatory limitations and won so they wereremoved from their permit.
“We have great concern regarding the health of ouraquifers and we object to Nestle’s appeal to remove these much-neededconservation measures, especially when local residents are placed on waterrestrictions in times of drought are doing their part to conserve this preciousresource,” Kim Gutt, a Wellington Water Watchers board member, stated in a newsrelease.” (Nestle appealing mandatory limits…) Nestle also released a statementsaying that they felt they were being attacked due to being a large global companywith large brand recognition. So, if Nestle felt that the ACT was not intheir favour they have the time, resources and inclination to launch legalaction against the government. The factthat they have not, is a good indicator that they feel the act works for themand not against them. Asmuch as Nestle outwardly supports the Ontario Water Resources Act, permits and costincrease it is because they know that they are getting an incredible deal fromthe Ontario government. When things goagainst them they immediately become a victim; a very litigious victim. In the end, it is the people of Ontario andthe environment that are caught in the middle of corporations like Nestle andtheir lapdogs in the Ontario government.
“Water is a human right, commons and a publictrust, to be shared, protected, carefully managed and enjoyed by all who livearound it – not a source of profit.” (Council of Canadians)