Nestlé bows to pressure from community groups on bottled water fight

October 8, 2013 Media Release

Wellington Water Watchers, Ecojustice and the  Council of Canadians are celebrating Nestlé Canada Inc.’s move to back  down from a bottled water fight after the groups challenged Nestlé on its attempt to have drought restrictions dropped from one of  its water takings in Ontario. On September 17, Nestlé announced that it  was withdrawing its appeal of drought restrictions on its water permit  in Wellington County. A final decision by the Environmental Review Tribunal on whether it will approve Nestlé’s  withdrawal and dismiss the proceedings is expected in the coming weeks.

Nestlé is allowed to pump and package 1.13 million litres of groundwater per day in Hillsburgh in Wellington County but challenged restrictions placed on its  “Permit To Take Water” last year by the Ministry of the Environment.  Last February, Nestlé announced it had persuaded the Ministry to remove  the mandatory reductions, but this agreement was successfully challenged before the Environmental Review Tribunal of Ontario by the community groups.  In August, the  Tribunal ruled that the settlement agreement between Nestlé and the  Ministry was not in the public interest and that the original appeal should proceed to a full hearing.

“It was clear to us from the  beginning that the lack of hydrological information would not support  Nestlé’s appeal for very long. Sadly, the Ministry of the Environment failed to protect our  communities’ water sources by negotiating a questionable settlement with Nestlé. It took action from Ecojustice lawyers representing the Council of Canadians and Wellington Water Watchers to make it clear that this appeal was unjustifiable, indefensible and  not in the public interest,” says Mike Nagy, chair of Wellington Water  Watchers. “Drought conditions are occurring more often due to climate  change and the Ministry is not taking its responsibility to protect our groundwater seriously. Community groups shouldn’t have  to put time and money into challenging the Ministry to do its job.”

“Nestlé didn’t deserve the red-carpet treatment,  especially not when governments must preserve access to safe water for  local communities,” said Will Amos, Director of the Ecojustice Clinic at the University of Ottawa. “Nestlé’s withdrawal of its appeal  restores the correct order for water protection in Ontario, which is  people, planet and then corporations who profit from our resources.”

“This case has highlighted the failings of  the “Permit to Take Water” process in Ontario, particularly during times of drought. Not all permits are or should be treated equally, and we believe it is the government’s duty to protect groundwater and  to prioritize water taking in favour of reasonable community use. We  hope to see more mandatory restrictions on the water takings throughout  the province where profit before conservation exists,” said Emma Lui, national water campaigner  for Council of Canadians. “In fact, we hope to see the Ministry step up  and uphold the precautionary principle to protect community water supplies when deciding whether to renew Nestlé’s permit once it expires in 2017.”

Nestlé’s water takings and the lack of groundwater  regulation in British Columbia have come under public scrutiny over the  last couple of months. The company withdraws up to 265 million litres a year for free from a well in Hope, B.C.

The movement to promote the human right to water  and public water services recently spread to Switzerland where Nestlé is headquartered. Bern, Switzerland recently became the first Blue Community outside of Canada. The Blue Communities Project, launched by the Council of Canadians and the Canadian  Union of Public Employees, designates municipalities Blue Communities  when municipal governments pass resolutions to ban bottled water from  municipal facilities, recognize water as a human right to water and promote public not-for-profit water and sanitation  services.

Wellington Water Watchers, Ecojustice and the Council of Canadians have sent a letter to the Minister of the Environment urging reforms to Ontario laws and  policies needed to adequately protect Ontario’s rivers, lakes and groundwater. The groups’ recommendations include that the Ministry prioritize water uses, remove barriers to declaring a  Level 3 drought and conduct cumulative impact assessments of water takings. Although the need  for some of these reforms has been documented in previous studies, this  case has again demonstrated the urgency of this need.

4 Comments to Nestlé bows to pressure from community groups on bottled water fight

  1. October 10, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    This is such good news for home owners and community services that need such water. Well done, WWW !

  2. Doug Smth's Gravatar Doug Smth
    October 15, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the effort to safeguard water. It is a pity that the Liberals have yet to learn what stewardship means. But the issue is still with us. Nestle’s commercialization is one thing the massive distribution of waste bottles is another. Funny how the precautionary principle is often trumped by technological exuberance, in this case by selling convenience.

  3. Erin Fraser's Gravatar Erin Fraser
    March 7, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    We certainly need more preventative measures and legislation to ensure that our resources are not taken advantage of-and that they are respected.
    A huge corporation being allowed to pump ground water from the natural groundwater storage of a community, for FREE, is absolutely absurd. What do they give back from profiting from this that could possible outweigh or enhance the situation for the communities at the receiving end of this depletion?
    I fully support these efforts-thank you!

  4. Stella Constance's Gravatar Stella Constance
    March 10, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Water conservation applies to everyone, including a company of persons, classified as a corporation. No exceptions. Actually, municipalities are incorporated (yes, they are corporations), functioning within a viable context, within their region with other stakeholders. So, how is it that *for-profit* corporations managed to work outside of that community or regional context?