Here’s some good news for the thousands of Ontarians who called on the province for years to fix its rules for water bottlers: We could be close to achieving that goal.
Earlier this month, the Ontario government released the third-party review of the province’s groundwater sustainability. At the same time, the government proposed a new set of regulations that will better safeguard groundwater and give municipalities more power to say no to increased water bottling operations in their communities. This is a big step in the right direction after years of Ontarians speaking out against companies like Nestlé taking Ontario groundwater for profit.
Now is the time to voice our support for a better path forward for managing water taking in the province.
New rules could safeguard groundwater
It’s been a long road. Environmental Defence first took action on this file in 2016, shortly before the ban on new water bottling permits was introduced. Since then, we’ve been calling on the government to set clear priorities of use for Ontario’s water and be transparent with the public. With these new rules proposed, it appears it could finally happen.
Over the years, Environmental Defence supporters and community members sent tens of thousands of emails, called the Minister of the Environment, and spoke out widely about the need for the moratorium to conclude with good sound science and with new policies that will protect groundwater for future generations. On June 18, 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) moved to do exactly that.
The government is now consulting on a set of proposed regulations that would:
- Give municipalities veto power over a new or expanded water bottling operation being proposed in their community.
- Make all water taking data open to the public and communicate with Ontarians about the health and sustainability of the province’s groundwater.
- Set clear priorities for who gets to take water, especially during times of drought, with an emphasis on drinking water and ecological needs first and above all other uses.
- Give authority to the directors granting permits to consider the impact that multiple demands on a groundwater source can have. This will ensure there aren’t too many stresses on at-risk groundwater aquifers
What Environmental Defence would like to see in the final water bottling regulations
It’s important that we speak up now to voice our support for these proposals, which are posted for the public to comment on until August 2, 2020. As always, the devil will be in the details. Here is what we hope to see in the final regulations:
A real say for municipalities
It will be important for the final regulations to include a realistic way for municipalities to “veto” an application for a permit to take water in their communities. In the past, the Ontario government has cut down municipal power in decision making, for example in opposition to aggregate pits and quarries. Therefore, it will be important that the regulations include a real way for municipalities to veto a permit to take water application. Permit to take water applications should be automatically rejected if they do not include the support of a municipality. This way, municipalities will be able to refuse a permit if it puts the environment or local drinking water supplies at risk.
People and nature before profit
The MECP has proposed to update the water taking regulations with explicit directions on how priorities for water should be considered when issuing permits to take water. They’ve proposed to put ecosystem needs and drinking water supply first and foremost, followed by irrigation for agriculture and then finally, if sustainable, uses for industry or commercial (including bottled water). Environmental Defence strongly supports these priorities. We will be watching to ensure that the new rules will lead to good decision making within the government when issuing permits to take water.
Transparency with the public
The proposal to make water taking data available to the public is a positive step. The MECP has proposed to make water taking information public in the next two years. Environmental Defence supports this transparency and encourages the MECP to share as much information as possible to increase public trust and awareness of how water is managed in Ontario. This data should be shared in a format that’s easily understandable and accessible with multiple formats for the public to access the information.
Consulting communities on water taking
If the past four years have shown us anything, it’s that the public is increasingly concerned about water bottling and the potential impact on local water supplies. In the proposals, the MECP asks “how should local water users, stakeholders, and Indigenous communities be engaged?” It is important that, as stakeholders and members of the public, we share our thoughts on how we want to be engaged.
With these four considerations in mind, Environmental Defence will be participating in the ongoing consultation through the Environmental Registry of Ontario. We invite our supporters to visit this webpage to submit their comments on these proposals and share their thoughts with the MECP until August 2, 2020. If the final regulations are strong and include these components, Environmental Defence is confident that it will mean a better path forward for water management in Ontario.