A number of environmental groups are celebrating an Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal decision that requires a proposed agreement between Nestlé and the Ontario Ministry of Environment to proceed to a full hearing. That draft deal would have allowed Nestlé to voluntarily rather than mandatorily curtail their water withdrawals from their Wellington County well in times of drought, just like all other water users in the Grand River watershed are currently permitted to do.

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The Wellington Water Watchers, Ecojustice, and the Council of Canadians released a joint statement on August 16 praising the tribunal’s decision.

The tribunal’s decision is the latest chapter in a long-running story initiated by Nestlé’s application for a well licence. The application was granted by the Ministry of Environment, but with conditions mandating the company reduce its withdrawals during droughts. The company appealed the conditions to the Ontario Environmental Tribunal, as they were the only permit holders in the watershed facing mandatory reductions.

“The current permit remains in force until it is amended by the tribunal. That permit could not be amended by the Ministry of Environment without appearing before the tribunal to review the proposed revisions, hence the requirement that we file an appeal with the tribunal related to the original document. The changes were contained in a draft letter of settlement between the Ministry and ourselves,” says John Challinor, director of corporate affairs, Nestlé Waters Canada.

The Tribunal’s decision is the latest chapter in a long-running story initiated by Nestlé’s application for a well licence. The application was granted by the Ministry of Environment, but with conditions mandating the company reduce its withdrawals during droughts. The company appealed the conditions to the Ontario Environmental Tribunal, as they were the only permit holders in the watershed facing mandatory reductions. However, before the tribunal had come to a full ruling, a bargain was struck between the Province and the company, and the conditions were removed.

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The Council of Canadians and Wellington Water Watchers were a party to Nestlé’s appeal in response to the proposed agreement between Nestlé and the government, with the tribunal ultimately deciding that more research into the source of the aquifer’s water must be conducted before the significance of drought conditions can be addressed.

“We are very happy that our concerns, which we have voiced over seven years, are now being heard,” said chair of the Wellington Water Watchers, Paul Nagy. “We believe that a hearing is a positive step forward in allowing for meaningful public participation and discussion regarding the many issues surrounding this permit and threats to the groundwater.”

“The fact of the matter is that each and every word of the proposed minutes of settlement between the Ministry and Nestlé Waters was written for public scrutiny during the tribunal pre-hearing process, which the Council of Canadians and Wellington Water Watchers participated in,” says Challinor in response.

Nestlé has maintained that it should not be held to standards that no other watershed licence holders face.

This news item has been edited.

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