Note

This original article by Joanne Shuttleworth appeared in the Guelph Tribune here

ELORA — Residents of the Village of Elora are skeptical of the claims made by Nestle Waters that operating a new well just outside Elora will have no impact on local wells or water quality in the community.

More than 130 people attended a public information session hosted by the water bottling company Wednesday evening to raise their concerns and have questions answered.

Nestle has made a conditional offer to purchase the former Middlebrook Water Company. It’s a five-acre property just west of the village that never really got its water bottling facility off the ground.

Middlebrook has a permit to take 300 gallons of water/ minute that expires in October. If Nestle finds the water quality and flow is good and the deal goes through, it hopes to receive the same permit from the Ministry of the Environment.

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John Challinor, director of corporate affairs for Nestle, said the Elora well would serve as a back-up to its Aberfoyle facility

Andreanne Simard, natural resource manager with Nestle Waters, said the property had a chicken processing factory on it in the 1990s. Middlebrook purchased the land in 2000.

Simard said Nestle is currently conducting tests on the site to measure water quality and quantity.

“If the results are satisfactory, we would then apply for a permit,” she said.

She said the artesian well is deep — much deeper than private wells — and goes right through bedrock.

She doesn’t believe taking water from the well will have a negative impact on surrounding wells or on Elora’s main water supply. But “an aquifer test will identify the impact on surrounding wells. It’s all part of our due diligence,” she said.

That didn’t sit well with Steve Quilley, who lives in Elora and works in environmental science at the University of Waterloo.

“This is the stupidest, short-sighted, most criminal use of water I can imagine,” he said in an interview. Quilley said that’s especially true in light of climate change and predictions that fresh drinking water will be in short supply in the not too distant future.

“Ask California what their new normal is,” he said. “This is a sustainability issue and bottling water to sell as a commodity is just not a sustainable model.

“It’s hard to give up your car to help with climate change but it’s not hard to give up bottled water.”

Donna McCaw is a member of the group Friends of Elora Water and they are opposed to Nestle’s expansion plans.

She said that Elora falls under provincial Places to Grow legislation and the village is expected to grow to a small city in the next 20 years. She said the municipality currently uses 1.7 million litres of water a day for its citizens and Nestle is proposing to take 1.6 million litres a day.

“That is our future need. The well is our future source of water,” she said.

She said chicken fat – from the former chicken processing plant — has been found in the Grand River downstream of the site indicating there is a potential contamination issue.

“If they start sucking water will it pull in that contamination? And what do we do in a drought?” she asked.

McCaw said the group wants the province to put a moratorium on water-taking permits in Centre Wellington until the township can prepare a water use master plan. She said a Tier 3 study is in order.

Judy Briggs, another Elora resident, said she’s concerned about the impact on the Grand River Watershed and on local roads once trucks begin delivering water to the Aberfoyle facility.

Challinor said a test was conducted in 2004 that concluded taking water from the Middlebrook well will have no impact on surrounding wells.

“We don’t draw more than can be replace by nature,” he said, adding water use and water quality is highly scrutinized by the Ministry of the Environment.

Anyone wishing to comment to Nestle on the proposal can:

• 1-888-565-1445 ext. 6422 and leave a message.

• comment online at www.nestle-waters.ca.