Save Our Water Comments on the Two-Year Moratorium

The Ontario government’s proposal to impose a two-year moratorium on new or expanded water takings from groundwater by bottling companies is good news for Ontario, and for Centre Wellington.  If passed, the moratorium will provide much needed time for research and consultation.

The moratorium means there is no possibility of a pump test at the Middlebrook well until January 2019.

The moratorium is what we asked for, and it’s a reprieve, but this story isn’t over.

In the Ministry’s announcement: “This would allow time for the Ministry to undertake a comprehensive look at our current understanding of Ontario’s groundwater resources and the rules that govern water bottling facilities that use groundwater. This will help enhance water security in Ontario, by ensuring the wise use and management of groundwater in the face of climate change and population growth.”

Save Our Water is encouraged at the action the government has taken and their acknowledgement of climate uncertainty and areas designated for growth, but this has to translate into meaningful legislation.

Over 20,000 comments were posted on the Environmental Registry during the public review period.

The following is Save Our Water’s submission on the Ministry’s proposal for the moratorium:

EBR Registry Number: 012-8783

As residents concerned about the water issues in our area and in Ontario, we applaud the Ministry’s proposal for a two-year moratorium, as this will allow time for new improved policies to be put in place for the long term with regard to permits for water bottling companies using groundwater.

We appreciate that the proposed regulation was posted on the EBR Registry, allowing the opportunity for public comment. The following are recommendations that we would like to see as part of new policy for this water use.

  1. Water is for Life, Not for Profit. Fundamentally, we support a Ministry position of water as a public trust, not a commodity to be sold.
  2. Prioritization of water permits. There is a need for a meaningful tiered water approach.  A clear ranking of the permits would determine when the tap gets shut down or reduced, in the event of droughts or climate uncertainty.  Agricultural and municipal drinking water uses as well as ecosystem needs rank well above commercial water bottling.  Clearly, an industry that creates billions of bottles made of plastic that will never biodegrade, and of which approximately 34 percent end up in landfill needs to be assessed separately.
  3. Population growth and water security for residents. The report recognizes that areas mandated for growing populations have heightened concerns related to water security.  Assessments for permits should take into account interference with the orderly expansion of municipal water systems that will be required to efficiently service that increased population.  As well as water quantity, municipal water quality issues and vulnerabilities should be assessed.  Potential interference with private wells, as well as risk to the well field from large numbers of nearby private wells and septic systems requires more consideration.
  4. Where does the water come from? Along with population growth is further land development, with more water run-off into rivers and a reduction in permeable surface area for water absorption.  Of the two calculations, population increases and loss of recharge for our aquifers, there is more uncertainty with the second.  We recommend that recharge areas for water takings be clearly identified and that more comprehensive methods be used for calculating the estimates of cumulative changes in groundwater recharge long into the future.
  5. Better resilience to climate change. Increased incidence and duration of droughts, as well as the increased intensity of storms, mean increased uncertainty with respect to both surface and groundwater.  The Environmental Commissioner has made recommendations that would improve the water permit program with respect to responsiveness to climate change, including mandatory reduction in water taking during drought.  We recommend that these ECO recommendations be implemented.
  6. An ecosystem approach is essential. We note that ecosystems receive inadequate mention in this proposal.  For environmental protection it is critical to factor in the needs of the ecosystem, composed of air, land, water and living organisms, as a priority.  The Environmental Commissioner recommended that the Ministry develop a more comprehensive methodology to assess the water needs of ecosystems when reviewing applications for Permits to Take Water.  We would like to see such methodology become part of the application review process.
  7. Need for better understanding of the health of the aquifer. Water permits have been issued for vast amounts without full comprehension of reserves in the deep aquifer.  We are encouraged that the proposal notes that current water budget studies, which are based on estimates and modeling, are not entirely adequate with regard to understanding groundwater reserves and replenishment of the deep aquifers.  It should be recognized that with these water budget exercises, the smaller the area being studied the more exact the modeling has to be, which makes water estimates at a local level more difficult.
  8. Cumulative impacts of total water permits. We recommend that water budget methods be applied to assess impacts of total water takings on a watershed-wide scale.  We also see a need for improvement in the understanding of the cumulative impacts on surface water, groundwater and deep aquifers of total water takings over the long term.
  9. Scientific standards for permit applications. Regarding scientific reports in applications for new water-taking permits or renewals, we are concerned about the validity of study results that are prepared solely by the applicants, as these would not be disinterested studies.  Such studies should be third party, not proponent-driven research, and peer reviewed similar to scientific protocol standards.  We recommend that these studies focus on the health of the aquifer, the wider environment and public need.
  10. Water management program requires periodic review. Understanding of climate change is evolving and groundwater science is continually improving. There will continue to be new growth projections.  Therefore it is important to periodically review permitting policy to best reflect the science and local agency.  These reviews should be promoted publicly and offer user-friendly avenues for submitting comments.
  11. Cost recovery through water charges. Historically, water-bottling permits require disproportionately high amounts of Ministry time and effort to evaluate and process. We recommend that rates charged to highly consumptive commercial users such as water bottling companies be increased to more fully reflect the administration costs associated with managing the permits and the risks they pose to the environment, as well as the costs of third-party studies on water sustainability.
  12. Impact on current and future generations. When presented with any new or renewing permit application, the ministry should consider the effects of its decisions on current and future generations, consistent with sustainable development principles.  It is clear that not only do these consumptive permits provide no benefit for future generations, they put them at risk by removing vast amounts of water from the deep aquifers while imposing billions of pieces of plastic waste onto current generations and generations to come.