Remember Foodstock? Well, now plans for a Waterstock are in the works.
As the province plans to boost permit fees charged to water-bottling companies, a citizens’ group that has advocated against Nestlé Waters Canada’s operations in Hillsburgh for years is taking a cue from the mega-quarry movement.
“(Waterstock) is designed to keep the public attention on this issue and celebrate water,” said Mike Nagy, chair of the Wellington Water Watchers. About five years ago, Nagy saw how Foodstock helped ignite the mega-quarry fight in Melancthon. With Waterstock, the Water Watchers are planning to host a similar event in Hillsburgh on June 11.
“This will be happening in the spring to draw attention to that Hillsburgh well, as well as the Aberfoyle issue. Now, with Elora – we call it the Nestlé triangle,” Nagy said, noting details surrounding the event are still being ironed out.
“We figure there is going to be a pretty large attendance. It is going to be quite a significant event,” he said. “Stay tuned. More information will be coming out.”
Foodstock happened in October 2011, drawing an estimated 20,000 people to a farm north of Orangeville. An event like that would likely require a Major Events Permit from the Town of Erin. Mayor Al Alls said he had not heard about the Waterstock plan.
The province recently announced its intention to increase the fees it charges water-bottling companies by $500 for every million litres of groundwater they draw.
The government currently charges water-taking permit holders $3.71 per every million litres. Revenues help cover a small portion of the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change’s (MOECC) costs associated with managing Ontario’s groundwater system.
Nagy hopes the province’s new fees proposed for water bottling companies help pave the way towards an era of cost recovery.
“We want to have a fully funded MOECC again someday. This is a cost recovery to help,” he explained. “They’re only recovering not even two per cent of the cost of managing water. That has to change.”
The proposed fee change posted on the province’s environmental registry (EBR) on Jan. 18 will be subject to a 60-day commenting period. Nestlé Waters Canada president Debbie Moore said her company plans to be “fully engaged” in the process.
“We will accept the final water price set through this process,” Moore said. “In principle, we believe all groundwater users should be treated equally, but we understand and appreciate that opinions differ regarding the rates various water users should pay.”
Nagy argues that water bottlers must be treated differently than other water takers. He said the current permitting process didn’t contemplate water-bottling companies when it was enacted about 30 years ago.
“These types of consumptive permits are actually taking advantage of a permit-to-take-water process that never saw this coming,” Nagy said. “It was never meant to export the water out of our watershed. It was meant for public good and need. This is an attempt to try and catch up and close that loophole.”
The MOECC intends to impose stricter regulations on water taking permit holders, including studies on the cumulative impacts of their water-takings, especially during drought.
“Ontario is committed to making sure we protect groundwater resources — now and in the future,” said Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray. “Fair pricing will help ensure those who are benefiting today from water resources do their part to safeguard it for tomorrow.”
Nestlé’s existing permit to draw up to 1.1 million litres per day from its well in Hillsburgh is up for renewal in August.
Nagy is anxious to see the province subject that permit to its new, more stringent regulations.
“The proof in the pudding would be making sure the regulations that are being proposed, the input that is going to be given, turns into meaningful and effective regulations and legislation,” Nagy said.