Save Our Water group shares recommendations to protect local water supply with Centre Wellington council and public

By Kelsey Dunbar

Enterprise News Express Staff

Through research and consultations with water experts, the local Save Our Water (SOW) community group has highlighted concerns related to Nestlé Waters’ water-taking permit in a report to Centre Wellington council in hopes of helping local government reach an informed and accountable decision. This report is now available to the public.

“It has been a steep learning curve, but we felt that if we didn’t have the background with the sciences, then what was the point?” one of the Save Our Water spokespeople, Libby Carlaw, said in an interview with the Enterprise News Express. “We were very careful to make sure we had the science to back up our facts.”

The group of concerned residents of Centre Wellington was created in April of this year when word began to travel about the possible sale of Middlebrook to Nestlé.

The group has grown from approximately 60 people to having over 14,000 Facebook friends and more than 200 on an email newsletter list.

The group consulted with hydrologists as well as town and county water departments to compile information and share their recommended actions for the township and public to consider before Nestlé Waters’ permit-to-take-water is granted.


SOW referred to several studies and reports that stress  management and protection of ground water is needed to secure the current and future water supply to the township.

The Township of Centre Wellington has been identified as one of Ontario’s places to grow with its population estimated to increase 40 per cent from over 27,000 to more than 41,000 by the year 2031. With that in mind, SOW says careful water supply planning is critical in meeting the increased water demands.

SOW members say they are concerned water extraction from Middlebrook by Nestlé may be in conflict with the township’s water supply long-term plan. The well’s recharge area lies within the township’s designated zone in the official plan for future water supply for Elora and for a future Elora well.

According to a 2009 water quantity stress assessment of the Grand River Watershed, if future municipal water demands increase to between eight and 10 per cent of the total watershed budget, the township’s water supply availability will be at risk and may not be able to supply the township’s growing population. That is without Nestlé extracting over a million liters of water per day.

That same study identifies Centre Wellington as a potentially stressed area for water supply due to two factors: Drought and future scenarios like population growth, and therefore is an area requiring a water quantity risk assessment.

The 2009 Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) integrated water supply budget report, created by Aqua Resource and initiated by the GRCA, predicts the watershed may not be retaining water at its normal rate and ultimately may not be able to support the local water demand as well as Nestlé Waters’ water-taking permit.


In 2008 the Middlebrook site was rejected as a location for a municipal well due to negative impacts reported by federal and provincial environmental assessments.

In July of this year, Dr. Hugh Whiteley, a third-party independent hydrologist from the University of Guelph School of Engineering, reported that more detailed data on the characteristics of the flow system now exist, and this data was not taken into account in the broader scale model for the proposed Nestlé project.

The Clean Water Act requires the permit-to-take-water process take account of these now-existing models, to represent the effects on all parts of the flow system of any new pumping that is proposed.

The GRCA integrated water budget report agrees with Whiteley, stating that further calibration would be beneficial to better understand regional groundwater systems, which currently are not understood completely.

If the ministry responsible for the water-taking permit does not understand the flow system, it could be left to assumption whether pumping would affect the well’s surroundings.


SOW members state a permit-to-take-water should include mandatory restrictions to reduce pumping during times of drought to ensure the levels of water in the well will return to a healthy depth.

Levels of drought are identified by the GRCA by a low-level water response as levels 1, 2 or 3. At drought levels 1 and 2, permit holders are asked to cut back their pumping by 10 per cent, however, this is left up to the permit holders.

A mandatory requirement to cut back during drought was a condition of Nestlé’s permit-to-take-water in Hillsburgh. Nestlé attempted to remove this condition, but as Wellington Water Watchers and the Council of Canadians through the Environmental Review Tribunal challenged the company, the condition remained.

The Ontario Low Water Response Planning document lists the Grand River as one of the province’s 36 watersheds that is most vulnerable to drought.


Middlebrook well is considered a high-risk zone for contamination because of the thin natural protective layers of clay, silt, sand and gravel over the limestone bedrock. Another risk of contamination is the high levels of nutrients in the soil from livestock, which could travel through the thin protective layer and into the watershed.

Manure in the watershed could contaminate the water with E. coli bacteria, which could cause illness or death.

Ian McRae recalled the farming practices upslope from the well while growing up on the Middlebrook well property in his report alongside the SOW report to council.

He states in his report that there is potential risk of contamination due to a chicken processing plant and farming activities occurring on and adjacent to the site. This risk is documented by the current contamination of a nearby well.

The Middlebrook well is slightly deeper then the GRCA contaminated well at 360 feet deep however, versus the contaminated 310 feet deep well.

A Nestlé representative stated that the company is not planning to treat the water taken from Middlebrook so it would qualify as a spring water brand, and SOW members say they’re concerned about untreated water consumption.


As part of a focus on educating the community about the importance of local water, SOW wants to create discussion and celebration of water and they are promoting this with water-influenced art hanging in local shops and art exhibits to raise awareness and encourage others to reflect about water.

Exhibits of art from more than 25 local artists are located at the Café Creepier and Ashanti Elora as well as other various local locations.

“It will impact people visually and generate conversation and discussion,” SOW water month organizer, Peter Skoggard, said.

More information about water month is on SOW website as well as their social media feeds.

SOW members said they want to know that when all is said and done, they have done all they can do to inform the public as well as the township to make an informed decision on the matter.

“We have a responsibility to protect this resource and if we don’t do it for people who are living here or have accountability here, how can we trust a multi-national corporation of any kind to do that for us? It is not in our best interest and it is a conflict of interest,” Carlaw said.

“There has to be separation from corporate interest and the interest of our community, people in our province and our country.”

Through research and consultations with water experts, the local Save Our Water (SOW) community group has highlighted concerns related to Nestlé Waters’ water-taking permit in a report to Centre Wellington council in hopes of helping local government reach an informed and accountable decision. This report is now available to the public.


Nestle looking to buy and pump water from the shuttered Middlebrook Water Co. site

Nestle looking to buy and pump water from the shuttered Middlebrook Water Co. site
Nestle wants to bottle Elora’s water, but not without controversy. Hear water policy expert Robert de Loë’s take.


Council of Canadians: Nestlé continues to stir community opposition in the Great Lakes Basin

July 31, 2015 ­ 8:52pm

Nestlé Waters is moving forward with its plans to buy a new well in Elora, Ontario, situated in the Great Lakes Basin. The well is currently owned by Middle Brook Water Co. (registered as 1445036 Ontario Inc.). MiddleBrook’s current permit allows it to withdraw 1.6 million litres of groundwater per day from the Elora well and expires October 31, 2015.

In April, the Wellington Advertiser reported that “Nestlé would use the production well as a back­up or supplementary source to its main production well in Aberfoyle.” Nestlé Waters will be hosting an open house on Wednesday, August 5th about its acquisition of Middlebrook Water Co. Some residents strongly oppose Nestlé’s takeover of the Middle Brook permit including local group Save Our Water. Libby Carlaw, a spokesperson with Friends of Elora Water told the Guelph Mercury, “”It’s David versus Goliath…We’re a pretty small town and the best we can do is try and be as educated and informed as possible and help others be educated and informed.” Carlaw added, “[T]his isn’t about Nestlé Waters, because “Nestlé will not be the only company knocking at our door looking for water. More will come. We want as many people as possible to be as informed as possible, so we’re hoping for a big turnout on Wednesday.”

“’Ideally,’ said Carlaw, ‘Friends of Elora Water would like to see the province deny a renewal of the pumping permit.’”

Earlier this year, the Wellington Advertiser noted that the acquisition is “subject to confirmation that groundwater there meets [Nestlé’s] quality and quantity requirements and that the existing production permit will be renewed later this year by Ontario Ministry of Environment.”

Nestlé already pumps water from wells in Hillsburgh and Aberfoyle, two communities surrounded by three of the five Great Lakes in southern Ontario. Two years ago, Nestlé appealed the Ontario government’s decision to include drought restrictions on the Hillsburgh permit. However, Nestlé backed down after the Wellington Water Watchers and Council of Canadians represented by Ecojustice challenged the multi­billion dollar company on its attempt to have drought restrictions dropped from the five year permit. Nestlé’s Aberfoyle permit will expire on July 31, 2016.

Nestlé also withdraws 265 million litres every year in Hope, BC. The BC government kicked off a firestorm of opposition when it released new water rates that would have Nestlé paying only $2.25 per million litres starting in January when the new Water Sustainability Act comes into force. What’s worse is the act uses the ‘first in time first in right’ (FITFIR) system which prioritizes water permits by the date they are issued. In other words, if fracking, mining or bottled water companies like Nestlé get earlier permits  than municipalities, small scale farmers or other community water users, we could see a scenario where the former permits are honored while the latter water users are told they can’t draw water. BC water permits will be for an indefinite period of time while the water permits for bottled water withdrawals in Ontario range from one to ten years.  More information can be found on the water permits in Ontario here. Lengthy water permits can create a risk regarding NAFTA, the Canada­EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement or other trade agreements. If the B.C. or Ontario government has to revoke any of these permits down the road because of increased drought conditions, these companies could launch a trade challenge and sue for compensation.

Water is a commons to be shared, protected, carefully managed and enjoyed by all who live around them, as Maude Barlow has explained. Surface and ground water should be declared a public trust which will require the government to protect water for a community’s reasonable use. Under a public trust doctrine, private water use would be subservient to the public interest. Water could not be appropriated or subordinated for private gain. In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly confirmed the Human Right to Water and Sanitation. This internationally binding resolution must be recognized at every level of government. The recognition of water as a human right gives communities lacking access to clean drinking water a legal tool to exercise this right. It also provides legal recourse if a water source is damaged by industrial activities.

Parts of BC are experiencing historic levels of drought. There were six major droughts in southern Ontario since 1998 and in 2012, the first six months of the year were the driest since 1958. Maude Barlow has called for a new water ethic to address the current global water crisis. Nestlé’s application to renew its Aberfoyle permit and Middle Brook’s application to renew its Elora permit will be posted on the Ontario Environmental Registry. Members of the public should participate in any upcoming comment process to ensure that the Ontario government begins scaling back permits for bottled water withdrawals.

The BC government is calling for public comments on newly released papers on groundwater licensing until September 8. Be sure to send in comments calling on the BC government to scrap ‘First in time first in right’ and to make the permits one­five years only. We must work to ensure all legislation, policies and decisions are based on water as a human right, commons and public trust. As Maude Barlow has written, “A true Commons is based on a co­management model and requires true collaboration between community and government and ability of regulatory agencies to implement public recommendations.”

For too long, governments have left communities out of decision making. We need to make our voices louder and take action to protect water. The global water crisis here and these are decisions we cannot afford to sit out.

● Emma Lui’s blog

Public interested in Nestle’s proposed purchase of Elora water bottling plant

Guelph Mercury, Jul 30, 2015

By Tony Saxon

GUELPH — Some residents of Elora are calling it a David vs. Goliath situation, as they try and prevent bottled water giant Nestle Waters from purchasing a local water bottling facility.

Nestle is looking to purchase Middlebrook Water Co., of Elora, and use it as a back­up well for its main bottling facility in Aberfoyle.

The community group Friends of Elora Water plan on being out in full force Wednesday when Nestle hosts a public open house at the Elora and District Community Centre to provide information and address concerns about its plans.

“It’s David versus Goliath,” said Libby Carlaw, a spokesperson with Friends of Elora Water. “We’re a pretty small town and the best we can do is try and be as educated and informed as possible and help others be  educated and informed.”

Carlaw said this isn’t about Nestle Waters, because “Nestle will not be the only company knocking at our door looking for water. More will come. We want as many people as possible to be as informed as possible, so we’re hoping for a big turnout on Wednesday.”

Nestle has applied to the Ministry of the Environment for permission to conduct tests at the Middlebrook Road well to make sure it meets “the quality and quantity” the company is looking for.

If approved, and if those tests are positive, the company will be asking for the renewal of a permit that currently allows for 300 gallons of water a minute to be pumped from the Elora well. That permit is set to expire in October.

It would then purchase the five ­acre site at 7334 Middlebrook Rd., which has had a pumping permit since 2002.

John Challinor, director of corporate affairs for Nestle Waters, said the well in Elora would serve as a back­up well for the company’s main Aberfoyle plant, which currently has a permit to pump 660 gallons per minute.

He said there are no plans to apply for an increase at the Elora location, only to maintain current pumping levels.

Challinor said the Aberfoyle well does not currently have a back­up.

“And that’s the issue,” he said. “We’re one of the very few production facilities in North America that Nestle Waters has that does not currently have a supplementary well,” Challinor said.

Ideally, said Carlaw, Friends of Elora Water would like to see the province deny a renewal of the pumping permit.

At the very least they are hoping the province will conduct an advanced study to examine the current state of the aquifer the water will be coming from and the potential affects on it.

They would also want to see restrictions and flexible conditions put on any new pumping permit.

“There’s so little information available,” Carlaw said. “It’s more water out of our watershed and our community and that’s very concerning.”

She said Elora is a growing community that needs to monitor and be informed about its future water needs. The Township of Centre Wellington issued a press release saying water matters were the province’s jurisdiction, but that it was watching the process keenly, taking part in a committee set up by Nestle Waters and were in touch with MPP Ted Arnott about him raising any concerns the township might have in the future.

Challinor said if things proceed accordingly, the testing will be completed this October permit renewal application won’t be made until 2016.

The open house takes place Wednesday at the Elora and District Community Centre beginning at 7 p.m­story/5768573­public­interested­in­nestle­s­proposed­purchase­of­elora-water­bottling­plant/

Wellington Advertiser: Not the time or place

Not the time or place, July 10, 2015

by Chris Daponte

Celebratory feelings of pride and patriotism consumed onlookers along Metcalfe Street as the annual Elora parade kicked off on July 1.

Various community groups, decked out in red and white in honour of Canada Day, offered festive greetings to the large crowd, which reacted with unbridled enthusiasm. It’s a scene my family has come to treasure over the last few years, as we can think of few better ways to celebrate our nation’s “birthday.”

But this year, the experience was marred somewhat by an unexpected demonstration.

Patriotism and revelry quickly dissipated as a large group representing Friends of Elora Water made its way down the main street as part of the parade. The group, which included several prominent community members and at least one local councillor, was indeed enthusiastic and obviously put a lot of thought into its props, signs and chants.

But members did nothing to even acknowledge the reason for the parade and nary a word was spoken about our great nation.

Instead, the parade was temporarily hijacked so the group could force its agenda upon what we assume was a largely unsuspecting crowd. (As an aside, something similar happened in Rockwood several weeks ago when the Concerned Residents Coalition had two entries in the small Pioneer Day parade there.)

Thankfully, it was only a brief intrusion and the Elora parade soon returned to floats and participants more fitting with the event’s intent.

It’s hard to gauge the reaction to the water demonstration along the entire parade route, but there were definitely a few raised eyebrows, bewildered looks and unflattering comments – in addition to my own.

Friends of Elora Water members who approached revelers before and after the parade to dispense group literature also seemed to detract from the patriotic tone of the day.

To be clear, we are in no way against this group – or any other for that matter – protesting or demonstrating. It obviously has the right to do so and Canada in particular is renowned and beloved by many for being a place where such groups can openly and freely express their views. We also don’t want to deride members of the group, who seem to be working closely with Wellington Water Watchers, or their overall goals.

We don’t always agree with the group’s methods or message, and  water ownership remains a thorny issue, but we definitely understand the group’s reasons for opposing Nestle Waters’ possible acquisition of Middlebrook Water Company west of Elora to establish a secondary well.

For the most part Friends of Elora Water members are thoughtful, well-meaning advocates with a genuine belief in the cause.

They clearly recognized the advantage of making a statement in front of a huge crowd on July 1, but it seems they got so immersed in the idea and the cause that they didn’t fully consider how their demonstration would be received by others. Worse yet, they failed to recognize that a community event, particularly one celebrating our great nation, is neither the time nor place for such messages.

Going forward, we hope the group reconsiders such actions; they may do more harm than good by shifting discussion about the actual cause (water and its protection) to a debate about the merits of the demonstration itself.

We also hope organizers of the Elora parade and other celebrations throughout the county are proactive to ensure future community events aren’t marred in a similar manner.