Save Our Water wrote to the Premier and the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change inviting them to join us in protecting the Grand River Watershed. We outlined threats to the watershed and asked them not to allow 1.6 million litres of pure, clean water to leave our watershed every single day – even for an increased fee. We told them that the current moratorium provides them the opportunity to create a policy that will be the world’s gold standard in water protection. Read the letter below.

August 11, 2017

The Honourable Kathleen Wynne
Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario  M7A 1A1

Minister Chris Ballard, MPP
Ministry of Environment and Climate Change
11th Floor, Ferguson Block
77 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario  M7A 2T5

Re:  large scale water-taking for bottling in the Grand River Watershed

Dear Premier Wynne and Minister Ballard,

We have a looming water crisis in Centre Wellington. This community is mandated to double its population in the next twenty-five years. At the same time, just outside Elora in Centre Wellington, Nestlé Waters Canada proposes extracting 1.6 million litres of water per day for bottling, sale and removal from the Grand River Watershed. In the time provided by the current moratorium on new water bottling permits, we invite you to join us in the protection of Ontario’s watersheds. Do not allow 1.6 million litres of pure, clean water to leave our watershed every single day – even for an increased fee.  Instead, create a policy that will be the world’s gold standard in water protection. Here are the threats, and the opportunities we see.

Water taking impacts are cumulative and long-term

Currently, and under the proposed application process for water bottling companies, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change takes into account impacts of water uses in local sections of the watershed, but ignores the cumulative effects of all threats to the watershed ecosystem as a whole including river, wetland, ground and aquifer waters. For the Grand River Watershed these threats are accumulating. “The Grand River Watershed has over 700 active Permits to Take Water, with permits constantly being issued, renewed and expiring, including significant municipal water takings,” according to the Ontario Environmental Commissioner’s 2014 Annual Report.

The vast majority of water-taking permit holders are clustered in the densely populated parts of Ontario, which means that the cumulative impacts of these 700 permits as well as other water takings are putting the water resources of ecosystems and hundreds of communities at risk. The Commissioner has repeatedly advised that better assessment is needed regarding all water uses at the watershed level. In 2013, the Ministry of Natural Resources issued a policy recommended for all Ontario ministries for resource management at a broader scale, with a framework to manage the increasing pressures and impacts on water in a more integrated way and over longer time periods than currently happen.

Watersheds offer a meaningful scale for ecosystem planning and decision-making regarding large-scale water taking. Protecting watersheds requires smarter, evidence-based policies that take cumulative impacts into account while recognizing that fees are not deterrents to multinationals and will never slake a thirst or irrigate a field.

The Grand River Watershed is fragile

The drought of 2016 and the flood of June 23 this year were reminders to many in this part of Ontario how variable and unpredictable the Grand River, a Canadian Heritage River, can be. On its own, the Grand River would run dry in the summer, as it did, often for extended periods, in the 1930s. Most significantly, in 1936, the river was entirely dry for the 80 kilometres stretching from its source near Dundalk down to the town of Fergus. The rest of the river had stretches of dry riverbed with shallow pools and rivulets. Today the river depends upon the Shand Dam at Belwood to maintain a constant flow during the summer months. Without the Shand Dam, supported by eight dams on tributaries, there would not have been much river left during the drought summers of 2012 and 2016. The Shand Dam reservoir acts as an artificial buffer that disguises the natural fragility of the waterway. It lulls us into a false sense of plenty, and contributes to the illusion that in Ontario water is infinite and clean.

In fact, our water is neither infinite nor reliably clean. In communities along the Grand, about 80 percent of local drinking water is taken from groundwater and the rest is taken from the river. The river is the sole source of municipal water supplies for the city of Brantford and for the two First Nation communities, including the Six Nations of the Grand River, where over 11,000 people have not had access to clean, running water for decades. In this community four out of five homes are not connected to waterlines, and local wells have recently become contaminated. Boiling water and trucking in water are facts of life.

The Grand River Conservation Authority has a dilemma. A royal commission inquiry into the Grand River flood of 1974 explains why we will continue to have spring floods despite the dams. After spring runoff, the reservoirs must be maintained at near full capacity in order to augment the summer flow in the river. If we have a series of heavy spring rainstorms we will have floods. Floods negatively affect the water quality.

Thirty municipal sewage treatment plants along the river handle the waste of over 700,000 people. But during severe rainstorms and floods large amounts of water flowing into sewer systems can overwhelm the treatment plants, causing bypassing which results in only partially treated sewage entering the river. In 2014 more than 385 million litres of barely treated sewage went into the Grand River, according to a provincial report. That’s enough to fill 154 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Partially treated sewage has high concentrations of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals. According to a study by Environment Canada, the Grand River tests highest in the world, higher than any other river anywhere for artificial sweeteners. All this is discharged into Lake Erie. The level of mutations in rainbow darter fish in the Grand River troubled University of Waterloo researchers several years ago, and they assert it is the sewage from local treatment plants together with warmer water that has affected the fish. The river has high phosphorous levels, which lead to low levels of oxygen.  All this is very bad for fish and also for the human lives that depend on the health of the watershed.

Smarter environmental and water taking policies will recognize and protect the rights of all Ontarians to clean, safe drinking water now and for the future.

Climate change and urbanization are changing the watershed

With climate change, floods and droughts along the river are increasingly severe and unpredictable, and both affect the quality of water. During floods water can bypass the treatment plants, and during droughts the levels are too low and the water too warm. A report in the Ontario Water Resources Journal claims that if predicted climate change scenarios are realized, we could be seeing no flow in the Grand River upstream of Doon during the summer months.

Under the Places to Grow Act and Greenbelt legislations, populations and municipal use of water along the river are increasing, putting greater pressure on demand for water and increasing conflicts between human and ecological imperatives.

The Middlebrook well, for which Nestlé proposes to apply for a permit after the moratorium, is only 100 metres from the river and is situated on traditional treaty land of the Six Nations of the Grand River. The sources that feed this well nourish the watershed and are part of the catchment area of the Grand River. “Every gallon of water that is taken out of a natural system for bottled water is a gallon of water that doesn’t flow down a stream, that doesn’t support a natural ecosystem,” says Peter Gleik, author of “Bottled and Sold.”

The right time to act

It’s not too late to save our water. The moratorium was an important first step. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change now has the opportunity to craft policies that anticipate the effects of these multiple pressures on Ontario’s fragile watersheds. We ask you to work with us, with our municipal councillors and our members of parliament, to craft meaningful, community-informed policies to protect Ontario’s water.

Save Our Water is a group of residents committed to safeguarding groundwater and the preservation of the watershed, the river and its fragile ecosystem. We want this river to flow pure and clean for many generations to come. We do not want to be the custodians who allowed the river to run dry, or who left behind poisoned waterways.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Jan Beveridge, for
‘Save Our Water’
Centre Wellington, Ontario

Ted Arnott, MPP, Wellington-Halton Hills
Michael Chong, MP, Wellington-Halton Hils