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Nestlé May Not Be The Bad Guy It's Portrayed As

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NESTLE WATER
Bryan Bedder via Getty Images
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In the last couple weeks a great deal of misinformation has been spread about the use of aquifer water by Nestlé Waters Canada (Nestlé) just outside of Hope, B.C.

As we have been informed, Nestlé draws water from the Kawkawa aquifer system which it treats, bottles and sells to consumers across British Columbia. In doing so Nestlé employs approximately 75 full-time employees, who live in the Hope area, and Nestlé pays taxes to the District of Hope.

The complaints about this practice have centred on two major topics: that Nestlé is drawing water from an aquifer during a drought and in doing so somehow depriving the rest of us of water, and that Nestlé is not paying a fair price for the groundwater.

The intention of this post is to address the first of these two topics as the second is a topic for a further post.

Aquifers are natural sources of water that underlie our province. Aquifers come in two major types: confined and unconfined.

The Kawkawa aquifer used by Nestlé is an unconfined aquifer. That means it has a water table that is in contact with the surface and can constantly be refreshed with rainwater from the Kawkawa watershed and by migration of water from hydraulically connected surface water bodies -- in this case Kawkawa Lake.

This differentiates it from a confined aquifer that represents groundwater trapped under an impermeable layer -- and often represents fossil waters that can take that generations to build up and once depleted can take generations to replenish.

The important thing to understand about individual aquifers is that they are mostly hydraulically isolated from each other. You can think of adjoining aquifers like adjoining swimming pools. Take the water from one and you don't affect the next.

So the operation of the Nestlé plant in Hope no way affects the larger water supply of the Fraser Valley or the even larger water supply of the Lower Mainland.

Because the Kawkawa aquifer is hydraulically connected to the lake and the nearby watershed, the condition of the aquifer can be inferred by the conditions of the lake. As long as the lake level remains relatively stable, the aquifer can also be understood to be relatively stable.

The Kawkawa aquifer drains to the Fraser River via Sucker Creek and then the Coquihalla River. As long as Sucker Creek continues to flow then we know that the aquifer is not only stable but has an excess of water which will simply drain to the ocean.

To put the amount of water extracted by Nestlé into perspective, the amount extracted in a year is equivalent to about 72 seconds worth of water flow from the Fraser River as it passes Hope.

Under the Water Sustainability Act, the government of British Columbia has begun the process of better understanding and regulating the use of our shared groundwater resource. They are showing national leadership and for that, should be praised rather than cursed.

The pricing of water under the Act is a topic that is currently being debated by a diverse group of stakeholders, but right now, no industrial water users in B.C. are charged for drawing water from their own wells. Nestlé is not a special case, they are like every other industrial user in B.C.

As for the current use of the Kawkawa aquifer by Nestlé, the science indicates that their extraction is having a negligible effect on the aquifer.

To be clear here, I am not saying that Nestlé shouldn't be paying more to extract groundwater from the aquifer, but that is a matter for our elected government to decide.

Nestlé's water supply is completely independent of the water supply used by you and me in Metro Vancouver. Not a single litre of the water bottled in Hope would otherwise be available to the users in Vancouver who are dependent on the Metro Vancouver water system.

The only reason to deprive those 75 citizens of their employment, and the District of Hope of those tax revenues during this drought, is to make someone else suffer in order to make ourselves feel better and that is not a very reasonable basis for a policy decision.

Any decision to throw those people out of work and abandon that income should be based on solid science and not raw, uninformed emotions.

Read more of Blair King's blogs at A Chemist In Langley.

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