Ontario’s water is too valuable to give away
Dear Premier Wynne:
Ontario’s water is too valuable to give away.
There is something wrong with Ontario’s water-taking rules when a multinational corporation has the rights to a well over a local Ontario community. It’s equally disturbing that these corporations aren’t required to take less water when the province is experiencing drought conditions. And corporations like this pay so little for the water they take that it doesn’t come close to covering the costs of taking it.
This simply isn’t fair. And it’s wrong.
In fact, over the past decade, legislative reports have repeatedly warned your government that Ontario’s Permit To Take Water (PTTW) process is broken, and corporations pay a rate that is too low to reflect the true cost to our province.
These warnings include reports from the Environment Commissioner of Ontario in 2008, 2012 and 2015. In 2012, the Drummond report commissioned by the Liberal government recommended increasing the water-taking fee. Also in 2012, the Liberal budget discussed the possibility of expanding the charge to the remaining commercial and industrial users in Ontario.
And yet, here we are in 2016, and nothing has changed.
I think you may appreciate that while your recent comments on reviewing the water-taking rules are a welcome small step, they are past due. We need to see action, not just talk.
Your government has had a lot of time and a lot of great advice on fixing this problem, but here’s a quick list of what needs to happen:
1. Fix the Permit To Take Water process to prioritize local water use.
Local water uses need to be given priority when you determine who is issued a permit to take water (PTTW). Community drinking water and farming must take priority over water-bottling and aggregate operations.
Companies must be required by law to stop mining our water during drought conditions. The PTTW process must include a mandatory water use reduction in line with your Ontario Low Water Response Plan. It took a legal challenge by community and environmental groups to enact a voluntary restriction of Nestlé's water taking in Wellington County during drought conditions. The law, not engaged communities, needs to be responsible for protecting our water during drought conditions.
The PTTW process needs to consider the whole ecosystem. This means a coordinated approach within watersheds, to ensure all permits are being issued with consideration of the cumulative effects of water taking from all uses.
As well, different water uses should be considered separately - particularly consumptive commercial uses like water bottlers that do not return water to the watershed - and be subject to a more rigorous process with legal restrictions on their water taking.
Finally, we need increased transparency and accountability in the PTTW process. Many high-risk uses of water receive little or no public scrutiny.
2. Deny Nestlé the test pump for their Middlebrook well.
When a multinational corporation like Nestlé has the rights to a well over a Canadian town of 30,000 people for their water, something is wrong.
It’s time to put communities ahead of the water bottling industry. Make this happen by denying Nestlé’s application for a test pump at Middlebrook.
3. Don’t renew Nestlé’s Aberfoyle permit at this time.
Right now, Nestlé continues to take millions of litres of water with their expired permit in Aberfoyle. Their permit is under review for renewal and should be turned down at this time.
We cannot afford to continue to give away our water under rules we all agree are broken.
The flawed PTTW rules are not limited to one company. Therefore, all new water-taking permits and renewal applications to take water for commercial water bottling purposes should be denied until the PTTW process is overhauled.
4. Raise the water-taking fee to make sure private corporations pay their fair share.
Why is the water-taking fee still so low? The Drummond report and successive reports from the ECO have recommended raising the water-taking fee to reflect true administration costs.
As it stands now, the ridiculously low water-taking fee of $3.71/million litres only covers 1.2 per cent of the province's total water quality management costs.
In effect, this means taxpayers are subsidizing corporations like Nestlé, because we are picking up the costs for water management through general tax revenue. This just isn’t fair.
To make matters worse, industrial water users such as nuclear power stations, the iron and steel industry, golf courses, and many other industries pay no fee to take water. Not only does this result in underfunding of programs that manage and protect our water resources, it also provides no incentive for companies to conserve and use water responsibly.
Water-taking fees should cover all expenses for administration, management and planning for sustainable water use. Fees from water taking should also enable municipalities to recover their costs associated with water administration, management and planning.
Premier, water is a finite resource. Just six per cent of the groundwater around the world is replenished and renewed within a "human lifetime" of 50 years. Only one per cent of the Great Lakes water is recharged from rainwater and snow melt.
I think you will agree with me in saying we are incredibly lucky in Ontario to have access to so much water.
It’s time to get serious about protecting it.