Nestle Waters Canada has sparked angry reactions to its bottled water business in Wellington County, threatening to sideswipe farmers who use Grand River water to irrigate crops, especially along the Lower Grand from Paris to Lake Erie.
Premier Kathleen Wynne has bowed to pressure and announced a review of water-taking permits. Farmers who irrigate crops need a permit.
Among those who lobbied Wynne are Wellington Water Watchers, Saveourwater.ca and Trout Unlimited.
They are concerned that Nestle is taking so much water that the water table is dropping and is reducing what’s available to others in the Grand River watershed.
Nestle holds permits to take up to 3.6 million litres per day from Aberfoyle, 1.113 million litres a day from Hillsburg and seeks a permit to take 1.6 million litres a day from Elora, which is in the municipality of Centre Wellington.
Nestle pays an extraction fee of $3.71 per one million litres pumped.
Donna McCaw of Saveourwater.ca says “the issue is just not the fees but water security and protection. This summer’s drought has underlined the need for these new policies on water taking.”
The Grand River Conservation Authority announced restrictions on water taking this summer, first for the area where farmers draw irrigation water, then later for the entire watershed.
The Aberfoyle project is up for review; Nestle has asked for a 10-year extension.
The Elora well site was first considered by Centre Wellington for municipal water, but Nestle bought the property.
“One would think that if Nestle had concerns about local water security as they claim, they would have allowed the sale to the township,” said McCaw.
“Granting a permit to take water that would remove 1.6 million litres of water a day from a stressed and sensitive watershed would be irresponsible in light of the local need for the water,” she said.
The Grand River watershed is a vulnerable one. There is no lake, much is limestone and the river is quite shallow in parts, says a news media briefing from Saveourwater.
“Many of the communities along the river depend on either groundwater from aquifers or water from the river.
"About 950,000 people live in the watershed and depend on municipal or private wells,” the background briefing says.
The major cities are Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph and Brantford.