Thursday, May 1, 2008

Heat Still on Over Water

The decision to allow Nestle Water a two-year permit renewal to keep taking water from Guelph’s south end continued to reverberate as the provincial government proposed the idea of charging a “token” fee for companies to bottle Ontario’s water last week.

"We've kind of put in a floor and we've begun to attach a real value to a natural resource, water," Premier Dalton McGuinty told the press before a Liberal cabinet meeting last week. "We're looking to see what we need to do in the future to attach value to that resource."

That “floor” McGuinty talks about is a $3.71 charge for every one million litres of water taken out of Ontario’s lakes and rivers. Environment Minister John Gerretsen later added that the fees “are at the low end” of where they need to be, but at the same time said that the government is not about to put an actual price on water.

But a price is what a lot environmental activists would like to see as companies like Nestle can take as much water as permitted for free, bottle it and resell it for profit. For a $3,000 application fee, the Nestle plant in Aberfoyle is allowed to pump 1.3 billion litres per year; enough for over 27 million 24-pack cases of water.

The debate in Guelph started last summer when Nestle applied for a permit renewal that would have allowed them to continue taking water from the Mill Creek for another five years. Nestle has been operating in Aberfoyle since 2000 and all previous permits have been for a duration of two years.

It was at the suggestion of a five year permit that the activist group Wellington Water Watchers sprang into action last summer.

"People like ourselves are trying to raise the alarm bell about the privatization and commoditization of water," WWW member Mike Nagy told me last summer. Nagy is also the Federal Green Party's Guelph candidate and environment critic, "Water taking permits were never intended for people to make money off of the water."

In response to the Ministry of the Environment’s decision to only renew the permit for two years, the WWW expressed mixed feelings. “While we would like to stress that, in our view, any permit granted to a commercial bottler to take public water essentially for free is squandering a precious public resource; we are nonetheless pleased that the MOE has reduced the requested timeframe,” said a statement on the WWW website.

As evidenced by the province’s recent announcement, this is an issue that’s far from over. People are becoming increasingly concerned about not just who’s taking their water, but what’s happening to the waste generated from all those plastic water bottles.

Even in the shine of their semi-victory, the WWW promises to continue their activism to secure the city’s water. “This two-year time frame will give our region the opportunity to properly plan for the management of municipal water supplies to accommodate our rapidly growing population,” their website states.

Get on Board

The City of Guelph is looking for interested people to fill a couple of Board vacancies. There are two spots open on the River Systems Advisory Committee, while the Board of Commissioners of Guelph General Hospital and the Guelph Junction Railway Company Directors each have one spot open. For more information, you can visit the City of Guelph website at

Be Careful of Bus Changes

As your travelling around the Royal City on Guelph Transit, keep in mind that a few routes are being affected by detours. The #54 Arkell will be diverted from Arkell Rd. between Summerfield Dr. and Gordon St. through to Friday May 2nd and the #8 General Hospital will redirected to Paul St. from Delhi as construction’s being done on Emma until Mid-July. Also, the extra frequency buses to the University of Guelph are on hiatus until September. Maps of route changes can be seen here:

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