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Ministry official grilled by Puslinch council on water bottling

by Mike Robinson

ABERFOYLE - Puslinch councillors say the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC)has muddied the issue of protecting water quality by singling out water bottlers.

Council’s message was made clear as they spoke to MOECC water policy analyst Eva Ammentorp on Sept. 6.

She was before council to outline MOECC efforts to protect Ontario’s water resources.

Ammentorp said “as you may or may not know the ministry is undertaking several initiatives, which began last year with water bottling and some of the controversy surrounding water bottlers within the province.”

That controversy raised concerns about how the ministry deals with water bottling and, “As a result, the ministry decided to act,” she said.

Ammentorp explained most water is controlled through the Ontario Water Resources Act, which provides for the protection of surface and groundwater, including tools that focus on water quantity management.

Permits are required for water withdrawal exceeding 50,000 litres on any day.

There are also prohibitions on specific water taking activities, such as water used for water bottling and water charges for highly consumptive industrial and commercial uses.

She said one of the things the MOECC has done is impose a two-year moratorium on taking groundwater for water bottling. This affects new permits and renewals that require increases.

“Water bottlers only represent a small portion of water permits, but this was a place to start,” Ammentorp said.

There are 19 water bottlers within Ontario, and another nine that use municipal water sources.

The only water bottlers affected by the moratorium are those with permits to draw groundwater - not those using municipal water as a source.

Ammentorp said another step was the new $500 regulatory charge for water bottling facilities taking groundwater (effective Aug. 1, 2017). This would be in addition to an existing water charge of $3.71 per million litres.

The new fee is anticipated to generate $850,000 per year, she said.

“These steps will give us a window of time to better understand groundwater in Ontario, while undertaking a review of provincial water taking rules, and examining a range of tools to better protect water,” Ammentorp said.     

The moratorium remains in effect until Jan. 1, 2019.

She said there are now new technical requirements for water bottling operations, including increased public reporting and transparency. There would also be additional monitoring, recording and reporting requirements.

Ammentorp said water bottling companies are being reviewed very rigorously, but that is only part of plan for a more comprehensive use of ground and surface water in Ontario.

She said the ministry is also considering whether cumulative impacts need to be investigated further.

Councillor Matthew Bulmer commented that as  adjacent municipalities continue to grow, the impacts of their water taking moves further and further into Puslinch.

“We all draw from the same aquifer,” he said.

Bulmer supported the idea of science-based policies to protect the quantity and quality of water.

However, he remained concerned the moratorium on water bottlers only applies to those drawing groundwater - but not to other beverage producers.

“Does this mean adding carbonation or adding flavour changes the impact to the natural environment?” Bulmer asked.

“I’m struggling to understand the science behind that policy.”

Ammentorp explained “once the water comes out of the ground, the ministry does not regulate it.”

Bulmer also had issue with the treatment of private versus municipal wells regarding permits to take water.

Councillor Susan Fielding also supported scientific study “to get to the bottom of this.”

She stated that locally, with Nestlé Waters, there has been a lot of data generated.

Fielding asked if the ministry was making use of that data in its study - or starting over.

“I thought you would be further ahead than this,” Fielding said.

Ammentorp noted work at the ministry has begun internally in terms of policy making. At the same time, she was uncertain how much of that would be in place by the end of the moratorium.

Fielding said water bottlers remain in limbo until a final decision is made.

“I would strongly urge the MOECC (to) stick to its timeline,” said Fielding.

She then asked what would happen if studies reveal there is no negative impact.

Ammentorp contended it is still too early in the process to tell.

Councillor John Sepulis asked if Puslinch will be represented on the stakeholders group involved in this process.

Ammentorp believed Puslinch will be represented through Wellington County.

Councillor Ken Roth asked what percentage of water taking is by water bottlers compared to all the other water permits in the province.

Ammentorp estimated the amount of water being taken is less than 1%.

“... So you are targeting under 1% to get all the scientific data to protect the quantity of water?” asked Roth.

He said he is concerned the province does not seem worried about the amount of water being taken from Puslinch by neighbouring municipalities - but it is concerned about water bottling.

Roth said that hypothetically, if the Nestlé Waters well became part of a Puslinch municipal water system, the moratorium would not be in effect.

Mayor Denis Lever contended there are “credibility” issues regarding the moratorium.

 

September 22, 2017

 
 

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