Néstle Waters denies ‘sucking Canadian community dry’ during drought periods

By Ben BOUCKLEY contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture Copyright: Carnie Lewis/Flickr
Picture Copyright: Carnie Lewis/Flickr

Related tags: Nestlé waters, Water

Néstle Waters denies it is depleting local water supplies via a Canadian well, but two environmental interest groups claim revisions to the firm’s recent permit signed off by the Ontario Ministry of Environment (OMOE) offer the local area insufficient protection against drought conditions.

A online petition posted on the site Sum of Us​ claims that “Néstle is sucking a Canadian community dry during drought conditions – just to sell bottled water”.

It claims that Néstle Waters has won a permit to drain the local aquifer in Hillsburgh, Ontario, dry at any time, while the community has to restrict its water use during dry conditions every summer.

“Let’s tell Néstle that community water access is more important than its profits. Demand Néstle stop draining Hillsburgh’s water source during dry conditions for the sake of profits.”​ the petition states.

It does not list the number of signatories to date.

Well has had no impact on local environment: Néstle Waters

But Néstle Waters Canada hit back yesterday. John B. Challinor II, director of corporate affairs, sent BeverageDaily.com a statement whereby the company said that the depletion statement regarding local water supplies was wholly false.

The firm states that it has always complied with requests by Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) to voluntarily reduce water usage during Level 1 and Level 2 drought levels.

On three occasions in 2007 and 2012 when drought levels were declared in Hillsburgh, Néstle Waters said it had voluntarily reduced its draws, and would comply with every such request in future.

Néstle Waters said its own hydro-geologist, and those from surrounding municipalities, the GRCA and the Ontario Ministry of Environment (OMOE) all agreed that the firm’s well had had no impact on surrounding residential or municipal wells, rivers, lakes, streams or adjacent flora or fauna events over the last 13 years.

But an “administrative misunderstanding”​ between GRCA and OMOE last fall meant Néstle Waters’ voluntary commitment became a mandatory requirement in its September 28 2012 permit to take water, the firm said.

“No other municipal or commercial water users in the watershed would be required to comply in the event of a drought except Néstle Waters, even though many of them draw considerably more water,”​ it added.

Opponents claim breach of public trust

The issue came down to “a matter of fairness”​, Néstle Waters added, and said it had agreed a settlement with the OMOE, which the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT) was now considering whether to approve on public interest grounds.

However, charity Ecojustice (which provides free legal services to ecological groups) is representing two public interest bodies – Wellington Water Watchers (WWW) and The Council of Canadians (COC) – and subsequently intervened in a Néstle Water’s appeal to the OMOE, prior to the settlement between the latter parties.

Ecojustice’s clients submit that the Néstle/OMOE agreement should be rejected, in a written submission to the ERT arguing that the director of the OMOE breached public trust doctrine in terms of his obligation to manage an important common water resource.

“In the fall of 2012, after much public engagement in the renewal process, the director placed conditions in the permit restricting pumping during droughts,”​ WWW and COC state in their affidavit to the tribunal.

Pump test controversy

They state that any revised permit, following the settlement between OMOE and Néstle Waters, would allow the director to authorize maximum takings during a Level 1 or 2 drought subject to a seven-day pump test undertaken during drought conditions to study water-drawing impacts on nearby wells and natural features.

But both WWW and COC claim that a pump test would not account for the health of the aquifer itself, nor the health of streams, rivers and wetlands which lie beyond the range of Néstle’s monitoring network, and which may be dependent on the aquifer’s discharge for baseflow during droughts.

“[And] the revised permit would impose no restrictions on pumping in a Level 3 drought, the most serious drought scenario,” ​the affidavit adds.

The bedrock aquifer drawn upon by Néstle Waters’ well contributes to both the Grand River and Credit River watersheds, WWW and COC claim, while groundwater discharge flows affect local municipal water systems.

WWW and COC claim 'substantive conditions' needed to protect environment

Néstle Waters disagrees. “We draw our water from deep underground sources. It is a scientific fact that there is little or no hydro‐geological connection between rivers, lakes and streams and groundwater sources,” ​the firm told this publication.

Charles Hatt, student-at-law for EcoJustice, told BeverageDaily.com that if Néstle Waters’ agreement with OMOE is accepted by the tribunal (with a decision expected soon), then the appeal will be over.

If not, then the case will proceed to a full hearing, where WWW and COC will argue for, as per their affidavit, “substantive conditions necessary to properly protect the environment”.

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