No Mandatory Drought Restrictions for Nestle?

On September 28, 2012, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) renewed Nestlé Waters Canada’s Permit to Take Water in Hillsburgh, Ontario, at rate of 1.1 million litres per day for five years. On October 11, 2012, Nestle Waters filed an appeal to challenge provisions of the permit that would restrict their water-taking operations during times of drought.

The Wellington Water Watchers has read with interest and is alarmed by Nestle Waters’ justification for this appeal. The terms of the permit and the grounds for the appeal can be found at the following link: http://www.ebr.gov.on.ca/ERS-WEB-External/displaynoticecontent.do?noticeId=MTE2MzU0&statusId=MTc2MjI2&language=en

While couched in legalistic argumentation, the principle objection that Nestle appears to have with the permit is that it would subject them to mandatory restrictions in their water-taking operations during periods of drought. Despite the introduction in this permit of a ‘spike rate’ that allows Nestle to compensate itself for lower-production periods by pumping water at a higher rate during non-drought period, Nestle claims that the current permit will “deprive the Appellant of its rights.” If successful, the appeal will make any such restrictions voluntary, except in the most severe (“Level 3”) drought conditions.

In 2012, the Hillsburgh area like much of southwestern Ontario experienced severe drought conditions, and low water conditions still exist even as November approaches.  Climate change is amplifying both the severity and durations of droughts, with predictions that such droughts will become more common as we have witnessed in recent years.  Given these conditions, conservation and caution is required.

The Wellington Water Watchers supports significant, mandatory restrictions on water-taking during times of drought, particularly concerning permits for water-taking activities where, like Nestle’s Hillsburgh operation, all of the water taken is permanently removed from the area. Residents and rate payers are subjected to mandatory water restrictions during dry spells, even when the water they use is kept within the local ecosystem. Commercial water takers such as Nestle, we believe, should be subjected to similar – if not greater – restrictions.

Nestle’s application for appeal states that it is being “deprived” by the minimal restrictions the current permit outlines for conservation during periods of drought. This statement illustrates an attitude of entitlement that should be of great concern to the community. Nestle’s appeal signals an unwavering pursuit of maximum freedom from restrictions and interference by local authorities, on the part of the corporation, which must be kept in check through strong controls and restriction imposed through the permitting system.
The Wellington Water Watchers is reviewing the appeal procedures and will be evaluating what role it will or can play in this process.  We look forward to hearing from the community regarding their views on this unprecedented appeal.