10/09/2013 05:39 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Nestlé Gives In On Water Drawing Conditions

Nestlé Waters Canada is backing down from a fight with environmental groups and accepting drought restrictions on its permit to take water from its well in Hillsburgh, Ont.

Wellington Water Watchers and the Council of Canadians, both represented by Ecojustice, announced today that Nestlé is withdrawing its appeal to the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal. The appeal centred on conditions the Ontario Ministry of the Environment put on the company's renewed permit to take water.

EARLIER: Nestle Denies It's Trying To 'Drain' Ontario Town

"It’s a major win. Nestlé’s decision to back down is huge. For the first time in Ontario’s history, a company must adhere to mandatory restrictions on the water it pumps out of the ground during drought conditions," said Ecojustice lawyer Will Amos.

Nestlé confirmed that it sent a letter to the tribunal asking that it not go ahead with the appeal. This means that the company will have to abide by the mandatory drought restrictions in its permit to take water.

The saga began last year when the Swiss food giant went to renew its licence for the well it owns in Hillsburgh, a pretty little farm town in the hills north of the Niagara Escarpment near Guelph. The Environment Ministry gave Nestlé a new five-year term but added two conditions that weren't in its earlier permit approvals. Basically, the water-bottling company would have to reduce its take of water during droughts. That made Nestlé the only permit holder in the watershed that would have mandatory reductions.

The company appealed the conditions to the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal.

Before the tribunal could rule on the appeal, Nestlé and the Environment Ministry reached an agreement in February and the two conditions were removed from the company's permit to take water. 

That's when the Council of Canadians and Wellington Water Watchers jumped in and launched an appeal. The groups said they appealed in order to protect groundwater that makes its way into the Grand and Credit rivers.

In August, the tribunal ruled that the agreement reached between Nestlé and the Environment Ministry was not in the public interest and that the original appeal should proceed to a full hearing.   

“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,” said Mike Nagy, chair of the Wellington Water Watchers.

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