ABERFOYLE, ON: NESTLÉ, BUSINESS AS USUAL UNDER EXPIRED PERMIT
This story is brought to you in part by Proteus Waters
By Cori Marshall
Nestlé's Permit To Take Water (PTTW) 1381-95ATY allowed the company to extract 3.6 million litres of water per day from the Amabel Aquifer. Nestlé Waters Canada applied for a renewal in April 2016, and since the permit expired on July 31 of the same year. Ontario legislation allows Nestlé to continue to operate as usual, even under an expired permit. Questions remain on how much water has been pumped in the last 17 months, and whether or not the permit will be renewed.
Nestlé is one of the world's most recognizable brand names, it can be found on anything from candy bars to baby formula. Aside from being familiar, the Nestlé Group is listed at 34 on the Forbes Global 2000, and is number one in the food industry.
Nestlé Waters accounted for more than 7.9 billion Swiss Francs (CHF) in sales in 2016, which is equivalent to just over 10 billion Canadian (CAD). Nestlé Waters operates wells globally that pump groundwater which is packed in plastic bottles and sold.
In October 2016, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change proposed a regulation that would establish a two year moratorium "on the issuance of new or increasing permits for water bottling." Permits to pump water for feasibility data where the future operation was water bottling would no longer be possible. The moratorium is in place until January 2019.
There was no shortage of criticism of water bottling operations, as the regulation was opened for public comment. One comment expressed concern stating, "currently large corporations like Nestlé are able to set up in Ontario, take fresh spring water at next to no cost, and sell it for a profit."
The comment seems to sum up the lack of trust surrounding corporate culture of privatizing water resources.
Towards the end of Erwin Wagenhofer' documentary, We Feed the World, then Nestlé Group CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe spoke about two different opinions on privatizing water, the extreme "represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right." The other less extreme opinion is that "water is a foodstuff like any other, [...] it should have market value." He believed that "the biggest social responsibility of any CEO is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of [their] enterprise."
Businesses exist to maximize profits, and the former CEO's comments lean toward water being controlled by private interests.
At the time of the proposal in 2016, members of the public voiced opposition to unequal access to water. One person expressed that "the taking of water should be limited [...] I am on a cistern system, and I pay a lot more for my water than the bottlers."
The Ontario regulation and moratorium applies to the entire province and not just Wellington County where Nestlé has been located for 17 years. To understand the particular situation in Aberfoyle we spoke with the stakeholders in the area.
Mike Nagy, Board Chair and founding member of Wellington Water Watchers, explained that the permit that Nestlé and other water bottlers in Ontario operate under "consumptive permits, that means that every drop that is drawn leaves the watershed." He added that "it's not being used on site, for agriculture and put back into the ground, so the water leaves."
Nagy described the area as the "Nestlé Triangle" because the company owns three wells, one of which is not in operation. There is an issue with the latest well, "it was identified as being needed by the township, there is no other water in the area." The well is in private hands and "there is now a direct conflict with public need and a corporate desire for more pumping and profit," Nagy said.
Nagy said that "in Aberfoyle, there has been evidence of environmental damage due to over-pumping, not just by Nestlé but others, yet the pumping continues." The Board Chair asserted that "This is an unnecessary, unintended use of our water and needs to stop." Wellington Water Watchers "not looking for better regulation, [they] are looking for certain uses to be revoked."
We also spoke with Andreanne Simard, Natural Resource Manager with Nestlé Waters Canada, and the person in charge of ensuring the sustainability of the operations.
Simard confirmed that the PTTWs are "still in effect and are highly regulated, as they always have been." Changes to regulations for water bottlers are "highly technical, and [have] an increased level of transparency."
Simard explained that Nestlé is "the first and largest water bottler to go through the process, and are working very diligently with the ministry, [the regulations are] new to everyone until we get through the requirements that's where we are."
Nestlé's permits remain in expiry until they meet the provincial government's requirements, one of which is consulting with First Nations.
The moratorium banned issuing new permits and ones that would authorize an increase of the amount of water taken under existing permits, the question had to be asked whether or not Nestlé was looking to increase the amount of water they extracted?
Simard responded, "we are not looking to anymore [water] than we are already permitted."
Simard underlined the water bottler's monitoring program saying that "it is one of the most robust that I have seen as a resource manager in North America, we collect data from 80 monitoring sites," on an hourly basis.
The Council of Canadians published a media released in late November stating that Nestlé was on the verge of pumping the 1 billionth litre of water since their permit expired. This was not an official number, it was extracted taking the monthly totals from August to December 2016 and monthly averages for January through July 2014-2016.
When asked how much water had been extracted since the PTTW expired at the end of July 2016, Simard responded "we really need to look at the bigger picture, [...] the water bottling industry accounts for 0.6% of permitted water that is actually extracted in the [Grand River] watershed." Simard said that "in the big picture Nestlé is a very small water user, but we are a very responsible user."
The most recent annual report indicates that Nestlé was only pumping 81% of of their daily limit, and for the year the bottler extracted approximately 59% of what they were permitted.
"The focus should really be on the sustainability of the resource, for all the water users because it is important and everybody has a role to play, and we really need to focus on that," Simard said.
In the end, the final decision on the permit rests in the hands of the MOECC.
In a statement issued to Water Today, the MOECC said "we have heard the concerns of Ontarians regarding the province's PTTW process and water pricing." The government developed "a new stringent guidance document for existing permits." The fee per million gallons of water taken by Nestlé or other water bottlers has been raised to $503.71.
Under the new fees Nestlé will be paying out over $2.36 billion a day for both the Aberfoyle and Erin wells, which adds up $0.005 per litre of water taken, and half litre bottles retail at $1 or more. When considering how important fresh water is to our survival that is not a lot to pay for a company to pump a litre of water. 2018 is an election year in Ontario, and people will be heading to the polls on June 7, don't be surprised if the water pumping for profit becomes a campaign issue.