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This original article by Mike Robinson appeared in the Wellington Advertiser here
ELORA – Centre Wellington officials are hoping to meet with provincial officials to discuss the long-term protection of the township’s water supply and the potential impact of the Nestle Waters permit application.
On Aug. 24 council authorized Mayor Kelly Linton to formally request Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott set up a meeting on the township’s behalf with the minister and deputy minister from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC).
The resolution was passed by council following eight delegations and considerable discussion at the council table.
There were calls from residents to enhance the township request, but the resolution presented at the outset of the discussion, which lasted about 90 minutes, remained unchanged.
A report by CAO Andy Goldie updated councillors on Nestle Waters Canada’s potential acquisition of the five-acre property west of Elora on Middlebrook Road as well as the company’s water taking permit application.
“Staff continue to work with the various provincial ministries and agencies to ensure our long-term water supply is protected to meet our current and future needs,” said Goldie.
Mayor Kelly Linton stated to those attending “we share your passion and commitment to the quantity and quality of our local water and we want to do what is in the best interests of this community.”
He noted the township has no approval authority when it comes to water taking permits, “but we do play a role and are committed to ensure the MOECC is aware of our community’s concern and of the long-term sustainability of our water.”
Linton noted both he and Goldie have met with Friends of Elora Water and appreciate the research and “all the volunteer effort” by that group.
Linton added the information generated by the group was used in discussions with Arnott.
Township officials are trying to coordinate an education session with staff from the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA), and possibly from the MOECC, to educate council on the water taking permit process.
“Our feeling [we should] continue to advocate to the ministry about the community concerns,” said Goldie. “We are looking to work hand-in-hand with our community advocating to the agencies and ministries which make the decisions.”
Earlier this year, Nestle Waters secured the rights to purchase the Middlebrook Road Water Bottling property to support its current operations in Aberfoyle. The Middlebrook property has an existing water taking permit that is set to expire on Oct. 31.
Nestle is currently investigating the quality and quantity of the well water as part of its assessment to purchase the site and obtain a new water taking permit. The company has advised the township its decision will be made in 2016.
Nestle Waters has set up a technical stakeholders committee to provide the township, GRCA, MOECC, Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), and the Wellington Water Watchers an opportunity to review its technical studies and provide comment/input.
Nestle’s MOECC application for a 30-day well pumping test is part of its assessment, as is monitoring township wells, private wells, and the possible impact to local water resources.
Goldie said the township plans to hire a professional expert to assist the township in the review of any and all studies produced as part of Nestle’s application/assessment process.
Centre Wellington officials will also continue to meet with GRCA and MOECC staff “to ensure the long-term protection of our water supply,” Goldie added.
He explained the proposed meeting between MOECC officials, Arnott and the township would cover:
– the need to protect the water supply long term, especially in regard to future township growth projections;
– funding support for the Water Master Plan and the Tier 3 Water Quantity Risk Assessment Study;
– the MOECC public process for well pumping applications and water taking permit applications; and
– a possible water taking moratorium until studies are completed.
Council heard from eight delegations on Aug. 24 regarding the Nestlé issue.
Rev. Greg Smith-Young who spoke about the United Church’s position and the sacred trust of water.
He noted a couple of months ago the Elora United Church leadership added its voice to concerns raised by Friends of Elora Water.
He also spoke of the beliefs of native peoples, to whom the idea of owning, packaging and selling water for the profit of a few “is inconceivable.”
Smith-Young said he is concerned with the ongoing privatization of water, “turning it into a commodity – subject to laws of the market.”
He also voiced concern about the notion that bottled water implies municipal water is somehow unsafe, unpalatable or in some other way inferior.
He said residents are trusting council to speak on behalf of the community.
Peter Skoggard talked about the experiences between other communities and water bottling companies.
He said some companies have stated that access to water is neither a public nor a human right – “Is this the type of company we want to place our trust in?”
Skoggard also described incidents across the globe with negative environmental impacts as a result of water bottling.
Dr. Alan Israel presented issues and concerns as a farmer and resident on Middlebrook Road.
Israel said he was reassured by earlier comments made by the mayor on the approach the township planned to take on this issue.
“I use water in Centre Wellington for the purpose of agriculture. I have no degree in agriculture, but I am not without knowledge in farming,” he said.
Israel spoke of water in terms of quantity, purity, availability and age.
“Please let us not be mesmerized or defeated by the experts hired by Nestlé. Let us use common sense in developing our own water survival strategies,” said Israel.
He agreed that at the end of the day the MOECC and Nestlé will turn on the tap, discharge huge quantities of water over a sustained period of time and determine whether the water source is sustainable.
“That test is no more scientific than our common sense.”
He contended that unregulated water development is already negatively impacting agriculture and livelihoods that rely on groundwater.
“The agricultural economics of this region are based on water supply,” said Israel.
Ian McCrae presented historical issues associated with the Middlebrook well.
He prepared a potential risk contamination document for council that is also posted at saveourwater.ca.
“I believe it is important for this community and the potential purchaser … know the potential challenges on and around that property,” said McCrae. He stressed his employer has not been involved in his work and that he is neither an engineer nor a hydrologist.
He spoke of a contaminated well in the area and pointed out that decommissioning a well does not remove the contaminated water at its base – “It remains below … until drawn somewhere else.”
He said Elora chose not locate its municipal well in that same area and contended high-capacity water taking will impact his well.
Jan Beveridge presented a request for conditions to be negotiated prior to Nestlé receiving a water taking permit.
Beveridge said there are actions the township can take, but there is a very narrow window in which conditions can be negotiated – specifically before Nestlé makes its permit application to the province.
After that, decisions on those conditions would be deferred to the province, she said, adding the potential risk of contamination needs to be taken very seriously.
Beveridge added that connections between aquifers are not fully known or understood and that the rock above the deep aquifer is filled with cracks and fissures.
“Once contamination is in an aquifer, it remains for decades,” she said.
Beveridge offered the township an action plan based on the Ontario Negligence Act to address the issue of risk assessment.
Though the permit is not a township decision, she said she believes the municipality could be on the hook for a huge sum of money if the township water supply was adversely effected.
She suggested Nestlé be required to post a bond to fix anything should any liability be incurred as a result of water taking.
“A $400-million bond would not be unreasonable,” Beveridge said.
Lindsay Bolger presented her concerns as a resident of Salem with a private well that is 275 feet deep.
She spoke of her own family’s need to restrict water usage.
“The fear of water contamination is also a concern. I don’t want to put my family’s drinking water at risk for the profit of a private company,” Bolger said.
She opined that water taking, which she said is not a sustainable practice, needs extensive evaluation.
“Why would we compromise our water system? This is not the legacy we wish to leave behind.” She also believed the monitoring area used by Nestlé is far too narrow and should be expanded.
Bolger believed extensive monitoring needs to be applied both before and during the testing.
She advocated having a well protection agreement in place before the pump test by Nestlé to deal with any an all concerns by well owners in Centre Wellington.
Libby Carlaw presented three goals related to the proposal.
Carlaw said for the past several months, members of the community have been on a fact-finding mission to determine the impact the Nestlé proposal could have on the township.
She contended the proposal is not in the best interest of the community – and has further ramifications for the watershed.
Carlaw said strong management of ground water is necessary to ensure current and future water supplies – especially in an era of climate change.
“We’re asking for a requirement for Nestlé to monitor wells for two weeks prior to pumping tests, plus a commitment for a transparent water data collection which can be assessed by a third party.”
Carlaw said residents are also seeking a three-year moratorium on consumptive water taking permits for commercial bottling within the Grand River Watershed, which would allow the province and municipality the time to enact bylaws and policies to catch up to the new water reality.
“We also want time for municipalities in the watershed to complete their water master plans and Tier 3 risk assessments … and (request) that the province provides the funds for this work to be done.”
Carlaw said, “There is no rush. We need to take the time to do this properly.”
Donna McCaw provided closing remarks.
“You’ve heard that water is a sacred trust … and that the United Nations declared water a human right rather than a commodity to be sold,” said McCaw.
She asked that when the township has its meeting with the minister of the environment, “please ask for a three-year moratorium on consumptive water taking permits for commercial water bottling in the Grand River Watershed.”
She said Centre Wellington needs to know its own needs before allowing water to be trucked away seven days a week, 24 hours a day. McCaw said the Aberfoyle permit is subject to renewal in 2016.
“If (that permit) is not renewed, this well (on Middle brook Road) becomes a production well,” she said.
“The decisions made here and at the provincial level will affect this community for decades.”
She said council needs both legal and technical advice very soon, as residents are “counting on your proactive and responsible leadership with this issue.”
Council held considerable discussion after the delegations.
Linton said Centre Wellington “is willing to do whatever it takes to protect both the quantity and quality of the water.”
He said he believes the next best step is to get an audience with the minister and deputy minister – to ensure both the administrative and political sides are represented.
He believes questions will revolve around the long-term viability of the water supply, testing, risks of contamination, whether the community will have input in the process, and the timing.
“We want to do this right,” said Linton.
Goldie added the MOECC now has copies of the reports prepared by the community group, noting, “We want to present what we’ve heard from the community.”
Councillor Fred Morris said what council heard from residents that night should strengthen its presentation to the environment minister.
“We need to state that protecting our water is critical,” said Morris, adding, “I think a moratorium is essential.
“I think the very fact that Nestlé is looking at this area as a water extraction point … is additional information warranting a moratorium.”
Morris stated population predictions from 2009 are far lower than current expectations. In 2009, it was believed Centre Wellington would have 31,000 by 2031.
But the township is approaching that population now, Morris noted, and forecasts now suggest a population of 41,000 by 2031 – “that’s 10,000 more people.”
Morris recommended an emergency committee of the whole meeting to discuss how it will present the concerns of the community.
Councillor Don Fisher agreed but said when the township approaches the minister it must be very specific in what is being sought.
“While it seems we have a lot of time – we don’t.” He said as councillors consider what needs to be done to impact the process, “we do need to get our act together.” Fisher also advocated the idea of a special meeting to come up with a strategy.
In addition to passing the original resolution, council agreed to set an additional committee of the whole meeting to discuss strategies and requests.
Des résidents d’Elora dans la région de Guelph s’opposent à ce que Nestlé achète une usine locale et obtienne un permis pour exploiter un puits. Nestlé souhaite l’utiliser pour alimenter son usine d’embouteillage à une trentaine de kilomètres d’Elora.
Dans cette petite ville idyllique au nord-ouest de Toronto, de nombreux résidents ont leur propre puits. Une source d’eau précieuse, mais limitée, explique Lindsay Boger, qui a déjà vu son puits à sec.
Les résidents craignent l’impact de l’exploitation de Nestlé sur la qualité et la quantité d’eau de la nappe phréatique. Selon eux, les autorités n’ont pas toutes les données en main pour pourvoir évaluer l’impact que pourrait avoir un tel projet.
Pour le moment, Nestlé a déposé une offre conditionnelle sur le puits. La compagnie réalise des tests pour mieux évaluer le potentiel de la source. Elle ajoute que la question de la durabilité la préoccupe tout autant que les résidents.
Nestlé attend la permission du gouvernement provincial pour pouvoir aller de l’avant avec des tests de pompage sur une période de 30 jours, afin d’avoir une meilleure idée de la durabilité du puits. La compagnie espère obtenir le permis pour commencer les essais dans les prochains mois.
Avec un reportage de Sara-Christine Gemson