Ontario’s government has officially posted proposals in need of public input pertaining to changes around the ways water is taken and managed in the province.
The proposals loaded to the Environmental Registry of Ontario follow the extension of a lengthy moratorium on new permits and permits that authorize increases to extract groundwater to produce bottled water.
“Ontarians can be confident our water resources are protected by good policy based on solid science and evidence, but we must always be prepared to adapt,” announced Jeff Yurek, Ontario Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, in a statement. “Based on initial input from our stakeholders and Indigenous communities, we have put forward proposed enhancements to our water taking rules that will create a more flexible and robust program,” he added.
The new water proposals cover four key areas. Perhaps most notably, the province is considering the idea that water bottling companies should be required to have the support of their host municipalities for new and increasing bottled water takings, with an exemption for small businesses. The issue has been highlighted in a lengthy battle between the Township of Centre Wellington and water bottling giant Nestlé over access to a local well. A number of organizations have been critical of the water bottler’s business strategy, and the Council of Canadians has even called for a boycott of Nestlé.
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Centre Wellington Mayor Kelly Linton has recently come out in favour of the Ontario government’s proposed changes to water taking, particularly the need for municipal support.
The Centre Wellington water taking issue has become highly controversial, even resulting in two-thirds of people across Ontario wanting the province to phase out all bottled-water takings, according to a 2016 poll by Oraclepoll Research. The Council of Canadians, Wellington Water Watchers, Six Nations, and local nonprofit Save Our Water are continuing campaigns virtually over the summer to have the government end water bottling.
In August 2017 the Liberal government hiked the fee that water bottlers must pay for every million litres of groundwater they extract from $3.71 to $503.71.
Two other new proposals are also in the mix for Ontario’s water taking efforts. The first is the need to establish priorities of water use that can guide water taking decisions. The second is to assess and manage multiple water takings together in areas “where water sustainability is a concern,” the proposal states. The latter could also come into play for the Township of Centre Wellington controversy, as a Tier-3 Water Study conducted in the area showed the town has enough water capacity to service the community until 2036. However, there is some risk if its current system isn’t expanded before 2041.
Lastly, Ontario has a new proposal to make water taking data available to the public to increase the transparency of how the province manages its water resources.
Ontario officials are inviting the public to provide feedback on the water quantity management proposal, which is open for public comment on the Environmental Registry until August 2, 2020. These comments will help inform the updates to further protect water resources in Ontario.