Is Nestle’s pumping for bottled water shrinking Aberfoyle aquifer? Activists, company disagree

Click to play video: 'Battle brewing with Nestle over bottled water in Ontario'
Battle brewing with Nestle over bottled water in Ontario
Battle brewing with Nestle over bottled water in Ontario – Aug 22, 2016
The Ontario government has extended – so far, without public consultation-- the expired permit of a water bottling company to extract water from Ontario aquifers. Critics say the government charges next to nothing for the permits.

Pumping groundwater for a bottled water plant near Guelph, Ont. is lowering the level of the local aquifer, activists say.

Nestle Canada has a licence to pump up to 3.6 million litres a day from its well in Aberfoyle, Ont. The licence is up for renewal, and opponents of the project are urging the province not to renew it.

“We don’t feel that’s sustainable,” says local environmentalist Mike Nagy. “The aquifer itself is showing stress.”

Hugh Whiteley, a hydrogeologist who works with the group, found that the aquifer had fallen 1.5 metres between 2011 and 2015, a period in which Nestle increased pumping by 33 per cent. That level of pumping drew the aquifer down faster than it could be recharged, he wrote in a statement released by Wellington Water Watchers, the group Nagy heads.

Whiteley was travelling and could not be contacted.

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Southern Ontario has been hit by drought this summer. Guelph, which relies almost completely on groundwater for its city water supplies, imposed severe water use restrictions for residents this summer. Lawn watering and washing is banned, and watering gardens is restricted.

Local activists criticized the company for pumping water during a drought, but Nestle Waters Canada spokesperson Jennifer Kerr said that the company has cut pumping in Aberfoyle twice in response to the drought, by 10 per cent in June and by another 20 per cent in August.

“The aquifer is not recovering back to its old level,” Nagy said. “It clearly has an impact.”

For its part, Nestle says that the fall in the aquifer is due to there being less rainfall in the years after 2011 than there had been previously.

“Nestle has been monitoring water levels in a number of wells of the Aberfoyle Aquifer for over 15 years and the records do not show any long term declining trends,” Kerr wrote in an e-mail.

“Our operations have no impact on the long-term sustainability of the water source or neighbouring ecosystem.”

The increase from 2011 to 2015 misses the larger context, Kerr wrote. 

“The 2011 pumping was actually our lowest “full-year” pumping on record, whereas 2015 could be considered as “normal” in the context of this source in the last 15 years.”

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READ MORE: Environmentalists urge Ontario not to renew water-taking permits for Nestle

Nestle’s water pumping operations have also faced controversy in drought-stricken areas of British Columbia.

WATCH: Rachel Johnson from the University of Vermont discusses how the school banned bottled water to help the environment, but it actually resulted in more plastic waste.

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