Hon. Minister Glen Murray
Minister of the Environment and Climate Change
11th Floor, Ferguson Block
77 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2T5
June 15, 2017
Open letter: More change needed to protect our water
Dear Hon. Minister Glen Murray,
Our water must be protected.
Thousands delivered this message at Waterstock to demand stronger protections for water—water is for life. Everyone should have a right to clean drinking water.
Your government’s proposed new water taking regulations fail to put water for people first. You’ve let down the thousands of people who wrote your government asking for stronger protections for public drinking water.
The people of Ontario deserve better.
I urge you to manage our water as a public trust in the public interest. Public drinking water for communities should have priority access to water over commercial and industrial users.
Your Ministry recently made some changes that amount to a small step in the right direction. But more must be done.
To start, Permit To Take Water (PTTW) rules should establish public drinking water for communities as the top priority.
Your own Ministry, as well as the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO), has acknowledged that climate change will likely lead to more droughts that cause water shortages. Restrictions on water taking will likely be necessary under these conditions.
Restricting public access to municipal water should not happen without first restricting private access for commercial and industrial users. Even the possibility that people would be forced to buy water from a private company because public drinking water is not available is unacceptable.
Quarries and bottled water companies should face mandatory restrictions on water taking during droughts. Their water taking permits should be restricted, revoked or denied if science reveals water shortages.
Minister, I ask you to make it explicitly clear in law that water for public drinking and growing food has priority over all other users when issuing a PTTW. Now is the time for the province to establish clear guidelines for priority access to water taking permits. It is irresponsible for your Ministry to wait until there is a crisis.
I am also deeply concerned about the new water taking fees for water bottlers. I have strongly advocated for an increase in water taking fees, but believe such an increase should be based on science, data and best practices. The Ministry should set the fee based on a cost recovery rate. The fee should not be too high to avoid treating water as a commodity for a government cash grab. Nor should the fee be too low so that taxpayers continue to subsidize commercial water taking.
Your Ministry has not shared any data on why the new rate is set at $503.71 per million litres.
This is still a drop in the bucket for bottlers who retail a 500 ml bottle at convenience stores for $2 but only have to pay $0.0005 for a litre of public water–water that is taken out of our watershed and shipped elsewhere to be sold for profit.
It is critical that the water taking fee is set at a level that properly funds water management programs. The ECO has for years raised concerns that water management programs are underfunded.
As well, a portion of the water taking fee should also help fund sustainable water management for municipalities. Once proper funding is in place to manage water sustainably, you should establish water taking fees at a rate that covers these costs.
Finally, your Ministry must take action to reduce plastic pollution and the cost associated with disposing/recycling plastic bottles. I understand that plastic pollution is outside the scope of revising water taking rules, but it is short-sighted to have any discussion of revising the rules for bottled water without also reviewing ways to eliminate plastic pollution.
Minister, now is the time to do the right thing for the people of Ontario. Put people and public water first. We want our water protected. And we deserve stronger rules than the ones you have proposed.