Community water needs should come first says FONOM president Al Spacek

ONTARIO—When it comes to drinking water in communities, the president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) says that the province, which is pondering putting in new rules to put community needs ahead of bottled water companies, is the right position to be taking.

“It is appropriate that community needs are taken into account first,” stated FONOM President Al Spacek. “We are talking about drinking water in communities and they should be considered before companies that are taking water to bottle it.”

“This all stems from there being a water crisis situation with the Nestle Company having outbid a neighbouring community on the purchase of a well near the community of Elora to bottle and sell water,” said Mr. Spacek. “This has drawn the attention of the premier (Kathleen Wynne).”

The small township, Elora, was outbid by multinational giant Nestle in its attempt to purchase a well to secure water supply for its expanding community.

Late last week Premier Wynne said that the province will be looking at ways to put community needs ahead of bottled water corporations. She was quoted by Canadian Press in the September 24 edition of the Sudbury Star as saying that as the province looks at the water bottling industry, ‘community needs’ have to be considered because the discussion is about one of the province’s most precious resources.

“There is much pressure on our water, so as we have this discussion about our water, the status of and the treatment of water bottling companies, that needs to be taken into consideration,” Premier Wynne told Canadian Press (CP).

Nestle said they had bid on the new site as it would supplement future business growth and support its main-production site in nearby Aberfoyle, where the company has a bottling plant that employs over 300 people.

CP reported that the Township of Centre Wellington Mayor Kelly Linton said they wanted to purchase the well to keep its water supply safe from commercial water taking long into the future, and to give the fast-growing community “control of our water source.”

In Ontario, municipalities, mining companies and golf courses, in addition to the water-bottling companies, are allowed to take a total of 1.4 trillion litres out of the surface and ground water supplies every day, CP reported.

In mandate letters released last Friday to her cabinet, Premier Wynne told Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray that, “immediate improvements are needed when it comes to water bottling practices, particularly in the face of climate change, the increasing demands on water resources by a growing population and concerns about water security.”

Premier Wynne also said that it is time to separate bottled water companies from the many others sectors that have water-taking permits, including mining and construction. “It’s not good enough from my perspective to say there’s lots of industries that need water. Water bottling is a different kind of industry and we need to treat it differently,” she was quoted by CP as saying.

According to CP Ms. Wynne’s mandate letter also said the environment minister needs to work with the finance minister on pricing options for water used by the bottled water industry. Currently, Ontario charges $3.71 for every million litres of water, compared with $2.50 in British Columbia and $70 in Quebec, the two other provinces with major bottled water operations. But Premier Wynne made it clear she wants to see bottled water companies pay more for the water they take.

Mr. Spacek added, “I can’t help but think there are going to be a lot of situations like this, with bottling companies and communities in conflict. I believe the needs of communities should win.”