Ground Water Canada

Features Contamination Water Issues
Profits and petitions

A look into how Nestlé stirred up ground water sentiments.

August 28, 2013  By Karly O’Brien

Bottled water is big business, and its use of ground water has recently caused quite a stir.

Bottled water is big business, and its use of ground water has recently caused quite a stir.

Global corporate watchdog recently launched a petition against Nestlé Waters Canada’s water withdrawals during droughts at its operations in Aberfoyle, Ont. So far, the petition has reached about 142,500 signatures of support, which is 7,500 signatures short of the organization’s final goal.


Nestlé was given a permit this year good through to 2017 that allows the company to take 1.1 million litres of water per day from Hillsburgh, Ont. for its bottling plant in nearby Aberfoyle. Initially, the permit mandated that Nestlé reduce its water withdrawals by 10 to 20 per cent, depending on drought severity. The company appealed these restrictions to the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal, but Nestlé and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment reached an agreement before the tribunal came to a decision, and the two restrictions were removed in February.

“This is just another example where the government favours corporations versus public needs,” comments Kaytee Riek, campaign manager for “Then there’s Nestlé who is only motivated by profit, and that was evident when they said water wasn’t a human right, and tried to patent a natural-occurring remedy.”

In early June, the Council of Canadians, along with several other regional conservation groups, appealed the ministry’s reversed decision to the same tribunal to finally find out their ruling on the issue.

People are beginning to realize the extent that companies are privatizing our water by getting permits, then putting it in a bottle and selling it, says Michael Nagy, the chair of the Wellington Water Watchers (WWW).

“In Ontario, at least, the permits were never meant to allow people to profit off of selling the water,” he continues. “It was designed to keep an eye on how many straws we have in the glass for municipalities. On top of that, they target the deepest wells so it is the last one to see any issues.”

Nestlé’s previous permit didn’t include mandatory drought limits, which is why the company appealed the new permit’s restrictions. The public’s concern is with the three droughts that the area has experienced since 2007, with the first half of 2012 being the driest since 1958.

“This is interesting because drought levels refer to surface bodies such as lakes, rivers, and streams  – not ground water,” states John Challinor, corporate affairs for the Guelph region of Nestlé Waters Canada. “There’s just simply no impact or causation between drawing water and droughts. That said, we would reduce our water anyway on a voluntary basis, not a mandatory one.”

Nestlé purchased Aberfoyle Springs in 2000, and the multinational corporation inherited four wells and two bottling plants: District of Hope, B.C. (primary and a backup well, and a plant); Erin, Ont. (one well); and Aberfoyle, Ont. (one well, and a plant).

The Canadian Bottled Water Association (CBWA) states the industry as a whole only accounts for a small portion of the country’s water withdrawals.

“Let’s put this situation into perspective,” says Elizabeth Griswold, executive director for CBWA. “The industry uses about 0.002 per cent of the water used in Canada.” She goes on to say that equals the same amount of water that nine golf courses use for the summer, not including spring or fall.

Despite the small percentage, some Canadians argue that the bottling industry is going to negatively impact the ground water levels, and/or cause droughts and problems with nearby private wells. 

“These [companies] are using the water as purely consumptive, with none of it going back into nature or the ground water,” says Nagy on the issue. “Whereas agriculture is value-added, and it is going back into the ground, where it came from.” However, some are skeptical of how much of the water used actually gets back into the water table.

David Siwicki, a hydrogeologist with SPL Beatty, says it’s difficult to pinpoint why water levels shift.

“You can’t blame any one industry for water problems, or droughts without a thorough research report conducted,” he says. “However, water taking is more likely a local issue than a regional or provincial issue as the nearby aquifers will be directly affected by what is happening locally.” He describes it as a cone of influence, and stresses that more studies need to be conducted to allow for a better understanding of any immediate and long-term effects.

Moving further west, British Columbia may start regulating its ground water and issuing (or denying) permits to any company or person who wants to withdraw large amounts of ground water. If the act is passed, it will be implemented next year making B.C. the last province to regulate it.

These provisions are included in the recently revised century-old Water Sustainability Act (WSA). It states that a charge will be enforced, as well as regular testing that will make it more difficult for companies to take any amount of water they think is suitable. 

Challinor said in the past Nestlé has voluntarily sent the B.C. government reports on its usage, but recently the company has stopped. The province does not currently charge Nestlé for taking any water that it uses for bottling.

The company reports that it drew 71 million gallons of water in 2012, and stated that it does its own mapping to ensure that this is a safe amount to take.

The proposed WSA was first introduced in December 2010 as part of the province’s Water Act modernization process, which was formally initiated in December 2009.

Joan Perry, office secretary for The British Columbia Ground Water Association (BCGWA), says it congratulates the movement towards regulation and supports increased monitoring on companies using the resource. 

A closer look

So how do companies acquire permits, and what sort of testing do they need to do in order to get a passing grade? A permit to take water is regulated differently in each province and territory with variations in costs, application processes, fees, and how it is monitored. Ground Water Canada took a look at how some provinces are handling the responsibility.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Tina Coffey, communications specialist for the Department of Environment and Conservation for Newfoundland and Labrador, provided information on how companies are permitted, and what guidelines they must follow within the province.

Coffey said that all companies are required to apply for a permit to take water under the Newfoundland and Labrador Water Resources Act (WRA). There is no threshold that exempts any company from purchasing a water-use permit, meaning it is mandatory for all amounts of water withdrawals. For ground water sources using wells, a permit for construction of a non-domestic well is also required under section 58 of the WRA.

The main stipulations for water withdrawal include: initial testing before a company can withdraw water; no infringement on quantity or quality of water sources; and annual reports. Other terms state non-exclusive water rights may be suspended, modified, or cancelled with a notice of 30 days, and the company is not permitted to sell bulk water or remove bulk water outside of the province.

Companies are required to pay a fee of $1,000 plus HST for a water-use licence, and $100 plus HST for building a non-domestic well. For bottling or beverage companies, the province requires the payment of applicable fees or royalties for the use of water.

In a chart Coffey provided to Ground Water Canada, there were five companies that draw from ground water resources, while the sixth uses a small stream originating from ground water: Garden Springs, George Yates, Main Brook Waterworks, McCurdy Enterprises, and Markland Cottage Winery, and St. Pierre Tours (not active).

Northwest Territories

The Ministry of the Environment regulates ground water resources in this province, but it does not monitor and issue permits. Instead these responsibilities fall under two non-governmental agencies: Northwest Territories Water Board (NWTWB), and the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board (MVLWB).  

These groups declare that if a company or person is withdrawing more than 100 cubic metres of water, then a type B permit is required. Anything more than 300 m3 is issued as a type A permit. To apply, renew or cancel a permit costs a total of $30. The charges to withdraw water are as follows: the first 2,000 m3 is $1 for every 100 m3 used per day every day. Any quantity that is greater than 2,000 m3 is $1.50 per 100 m3 per day every day, and for amounts greater than 4,000 m3 it is $2 per 100 m3 per day every day.

According to the agencies, there are currently no beverage operators with permits.

The industry is small, but it has people concerned of the effects locally, provincially, and nationally. There are no answers yet, just the need for more research into the issue.

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