“Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink.”

With these lines, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner bemoaned the absence of drinkable water while he was surrounded by salty sea water. No doubt, he would have been just as horrified by the current state of those same seas, now contaminated by millions of tons of empty water bottles.

By the time I had finished my research into the quantity of plastic in the world’s oceans, my head was swimming with statistics. Bottom line: more than a million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the world and only about 31% of them are recycled. Far too many end up in the ocean – 480 billion of them a year, which translates into close to 13 tonnes. By 2050, it is projected that there will be more plastic by weight than fish in the ocean. These plastic bottles – many of which originally contained drinking water – do not degrade or breakdown but live on to contaminate (and kill) sea creatures, eventually making their way back into the human food chain.

As if this were not reason enough to never again buy a plastic bottle of water, we should be very concerned about the cheap (or free) and easy access bottled water companies have to groundwater in many parts of the world.

Plenty of water here

Canada is rich in water: with just .5% of the world’s population, this country has 7% of the globe’s renewable water and half of the world’s lakes, so it is not surprising that bottled water companies look north with glee. So far, there is very little regulation of these companies by either federal or provincial governments.

Nestle is one of the giants in the bottled water industry, and it has done very well in Canada. Its two largest permits are for sites near Guelph, Ontario, where it is permitted to pull 4.7 million litres of water a day. Until recently, it was required to pay just $3.71 for every million litres it took. It is worth noting that one of these communities has had three serious droughts since 2007, but there was no requirement that Nestle curtail its activities.

That fee was raised to $503.71 in mid-2017, the same year that the Liberal government imposed a two-year moratorium on issuing new and expanded permits.

However, there has been considerable lag time in addressing companies whose permits have expired, most of which have continued to pull water under the terms of their old arrangements.

The moratorium is intended to, among other things, give companies time to comply with new technical requirements and guidelines, including “robust consultation with community stakeholders including First Nations.”

The Council of Canadians, long active on the issue of water generally and bottled water more specifically, notes that at Six Nations of the Grand River, downstream from Nestle’s bottling facilities, 91% of homes have either no water at all or water that is too polluted to drink.

Use our voices

Kathleen Wynne’s moratorium ends on January 1st. The current provincial government is now seeking public feedback on whether it should be extended for another year.

Water activists in Wellington County, who have experienced the devastating impact of Nestle’s operations for several years, urge Ontarians to respond to the survey and to send comments to the government urging it to extend the moratorium to at least January 1, 2023, so that steps can be taken to begin phasing out permits altogether.

It only takes a couple of minutes to complete the survey and send a comment. You need to do both by November 29th.  Please make the time.

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