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This original article by Mike Robinson appeared in the Wellington Advertiser here
Protesters are looking for both public and government support of recognizing water as a public trust.
The Elora Royal Canadian Legion hall was packed on Jan. 11 as Wellington Water Watchers and Save Our Water joined forces once again in their efforts to block Nestlé Waters from the community.
Organizers sought support of recognizing water as a public trust, asking for signatures in support of the following statement.
“The citizens of Centre Wellington want municipal water and water services to remain in public hands with no private sector involvement. Water is a public trust and, as such, needs to remain in public control. We therefore support our mayor and council in rejecting any discussion including with staff or proposals for public private partnership with Nestlé or any other private water bottling company.”
The two groups had billed the meeting as a citizens rally to stop a “backroom deal” between Nestlé and Township of Centre Wellington.
Both Centre Wellington Mayor Kelly Linton and Nestlé officials stated there has been no meeting since the presentation on Dec. 12 that alluded to a potential public private partnership.
Both council and Nestlé have already offered support to the provincial two-year moratorium on new wells or expanded wells for water bottlers.
Handouts provided by SaveOurWater suggested the group is encouraged by recent provincial initiatives, but want even stricter regulations regarding the bottled water industry.
– “we would like to see a more meaningful tiered ranking of all water permits, placing agricultural and municipal water use above commercial water bottling;” and
– “we feel the mandatory 20% decrease in water taking during drought does not go far enough. Further, the climate change consideration do not take into account the increased number of short intense rainfall events, with more runoff into storm sewers, streams and rivers whereby groundwater is not being replenished.”
MC Donna McCaw indicated she was pleased to see the turnout at the meeting.
“What exciting times it’s been since Nestlé’s come to town,” McCaw said.
She said the meeting was to look at the modest proposal by Nestlé for a public-private partnership and its potential repercussions.
“We need to say ‘no’ to Nestlé and keep on saying ‘no’ to Nestlé.”
She agreed the mayor and council had yet to discuss the Dec. 12 presentation by Nestlé.
She said the media has been very interested in this, as has been the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and communities across Canada and across the world.
“We are a water spotlight and we don’t want any dangerous precedents happening here.”
McCaw added “… but first let’s deal with this so-called partnership between a multi-billion dollar multi-national company and Centre Wellington.”
Mike Nagy of Wellington Water Watchers compared the proposal to putting a fox in the henhouse … to create confusion and division.
“I’ve never seen such solidarity and united opposition,” in the community he said. He contended any move forward on the proposal would not honour the provincial moratorium which is in place for the packaged water industry.
“It’s a completely different game now. The consciousness of the people has shifted dramatically, and more importantly, the province is working to put in new regulations by listening to the people.”
He said the township does not have “to go begging for help for its municipal water system.”
He contended deals like this don’t work and that places which have had public private water partnerships are now taking dramatic steps to get out of those such deals.
Nagy said the reason is clear enough, because the goal of companies are profits, not the good of the community.
“Beware the language of partnerships.”
Nagy suggested the proposal was only in the guise of a partnership.
While Nagy agreed to the tenants of capitalism “it should not be off the backs of municipal water.”
The Middlebrook well, at the heart of the controversy, is owned by Nestlé, not the municipality.
Nagy contended “losing water is losing democracy.”
Residents were encouraged to submit comments to the Environmental Bill of Rights registry www.ebr.gov.on.ca The registry number is 012-9151.
The public comment period ends Jan. 31.
Nagy said “We need to stand together.”
He asked those in the audience “Say ‘no’ to Nestlé and then let them know they are not welcome in Centre Wellington. Let’s keep making it clear.”
“This is not about a compromise … it is a ‘no’ to Nestlé,” Nagy said.
Some members of Centre Wellington council attended the meeting as well as Wellington County councillor Shawn Watters.
Watters has lived in Centre Wellington for the past 30 years and has served both on local and county council.
“Water has always been an underlying issue in our community.”
He spoke of the village of Elora’s efforts to find a new well prior to amalgamtion.
Watters said at that time, there was talk about the Middlebrook Road well.
However at that time, Elora was in the throes of amalgamation and the costs of piping that water to the community was prohibitive, he said.
Instead the village developed the well located near the Grand River Raceway.
Watters said on the issue of planning, the province has mandated significant growth for Centre Wellington over the next 20 years.
“We’re going from a population of 27,000 to 50,000 in the next few decades.”
To do that one has to have the fundamentals in place – one of those priorities is water.
“If you don’t have that, how do you expect to grow?”
While the province mandates growth in specific areas, the county determines where that growth will take place locally.
“There are very few places in the county that can accommodate that growth – so it’s going to be here in Centre Wellington.”
Therefore, Watters believed the county has some responsibility to ensure there is water for the community to grow.
He believed it important that residents talk to county councillors as well.
“Ultimately we all need water.”
Libby Carlaw of Save Our Water was pleased to see the turnout of people concerned about water issues in the community.
Carlaw noted some of those attending were from the original meeting at Box Social, in addition to numerous familiar faces.
She said Centre Wellington is made up of a lot of communities – many of which were represented that night.
Elora’s water issue and history is connected with its neighbours, Carlaw said.
“These issues about water are so integrated now, and decisions made before the year 2000 are all being made again and need to be revisited, because of growth, amalgamation the size – making everthing more complicated.”
Carlaw said we are a community of rivers and aquifers … “this whole community has been shaped by water.
“Water is fundamental to our very existence.”
She noted during amalgamation the Centre Wellington motto was strength in unity.
“If there was ever a time to talk about strength in unity – this is a good time.”
Carlaw said “we have to say ‘no’ and we have to support one another in saying ‘no’ loud and clear.”
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