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Pressure Ontario To Stop Giving Our Water Away To Big Business

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nestle water ontario
Bottles of Pure Life brand water move on the production line at the Nestle Waters Canada plant near Guelph, Ontario. (Photo: Kevin Van Paassen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Ontario's Liberal government is giving away our water.

The ridiculously low water-taking fee in Ontario only covers 1.2 per cent of the province's total water quality management costs.

This means the Liberals are using my -- and your -- tax dollars to subsidize companies to take our water.

That's right. The charge for water taking in this province is only $3.71 per million litres. You read that correctly -- three bucks and change for a MILLION litres of water. This means big multi-national companies like Nestlé pay only $9.27 for the amount of water it would take to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool.

That's an Olympic-sized rip off.

Your taxes pay the rest of the cost it takes to manage Ontario's water programs. Our tax dollars -- not corporations -- also subsidize the cost of disposing of those little plastic bottles.

This is simply ridiculous when water is a finite resource. Just six per cent of the groundwater around the world is replenished and renewed within a "human lifetime" of 50 years. Only one per cent of the Great Lakes water is recharged from rainwater and snow melt.

A private company's thirst to profit from our water should not be given priority. This has to change.

After a hot dry summer, you are likely feeling the effects of lack of rain -- in your garden, on your lawn, or the levels in your local lake or river. Many communities in the province are facing droughts and restrictions on water use.

Yet, the Liberals allowed water bottlers to take 1.7 billion litres of our water last year alone.

Meanwhile, the province doesn't even require companies to stop mining our water during drought conditions. Citizens groups like Wellington Water Watchers and the Council of Canadians had to take legal action in 2013 to challenge the Liberal government's removal of mandatory water-taking restrictions during drought conditions from the five-year license renewal for Nestlé 's Hillsburgh plant.

It's true Nestlé has voluntarily reduced its water taking during this summer's drought. But this should be required by law. A private company's thirst to profit from our water should not be given priority.

This has to change.

Thankfully, public pressure has finally forced the premier to review Nestlé 's water-taking permit in Aberfoyle, which expired on July 31. This review must not delay action -- the company can continue to take water with an expired permit, even in the midst of a severe drought, while the application is under review.

I think we need to immediately place restrictions on Nestlé's water taking, and ultimately deny their renewal application. Ontario must also raise the water-taking fee to cover the costs of managing our water programs.

But we can't stop there. The Permit To Take Water (PTTW) process in Ontario has serious flaws and needs major reform.

nestle water bottling
A worker inspects bottles of water at the Nestle Waters Canada plant near Guelph, Ontario. (Photo: Kevin Van Paassen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The government has known about these flaws at least since 2008. The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) reported that water taking by commercial water bottlers goes against an ecosystem approach to water management. The ECO even used Nestlé's Aberfoyle plant as a case study.

The ECO further criticized the province's low water-taking rates in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013 when it hammered the government's inadequate review of water-taking charges.

Then the 2012 Drummond Report came along. You remember that one -- the one the Liberals commissioned themselves to review government operations. Drummond recommended increasing the water-taking fee. And yet four years later, the government has failed to act.

The sorry state of Ontario's PTTW process was again the feature issue in the ECO's annual report last November.

The Liberals can't drag their feet on this one any longer. We can't afford to give our precious, life-giving water away to multi-national corporations. I believe the province needs to:

1. Deny any new water-taking permit or renewal application to take water from a corporate water bottling company until the Permit To Take Water process is overhauled.

2. Fix the Permit To Take Water process to prioritize non-consumptive local water uses such as community drinking water and farming over water-bottling operations and aggregate operations.

3. Raise the water-taking fee to reflect true administration costs and implement a deposit return program on all plastic bottles.

The premier has a choice: bow to corporate pressure by continuing to give away our water or prioritize its use as a life-giving public resource. The answer seems pretty obvious to me no matter how many reviews and conversations the premier has on the issue.

It's our water, and it's priceless.

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