Ontario government proposes to extend water bottling moratorium by 9 months

-. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

TORONTO – Ontario is proposing to extend a moratorium on water bottling permits for nine months to give the government more time to consider the science behind it.

Over the past year, the government reviewed the state of water resources in key areas of the province and the effect that taking water out of the ground has on those resources, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said on Tuesday.

The province will now have the data it has collected reviewed by a third-party, he added.

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“We’re talking another look at it, just to verify what science has come forward so that when we do share the information, we know that it’s been fully looked at by a second set of eyes,” he said.

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Extending the moratorium would also give the government more time to consult, Yurek said.

“We just want to continue our analysis of this data we have heard and continue our consultations with both municipalities and Indigenous communities,” he said. “We’re just not ready to make that final decision yet.”

The moratorium on new and expanded permits to take water for bottling was put in place by the former Liberal government in 2017 after bottled water giant Nestle purchased a well near Guelph that the Township of Centre Wellington wanted for its future drinking water supply.

The Progressive Conservative government extended it last year, and with the new expiry date of Jan. 1 looming, the Tories are looking to push that back to Oct. 1.

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The Liberals also hiked the fee that water bottlers must pay for every million litres of groundwater they take from $3.71 to $503.71.

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Water bottling companies with existing permits are allowed to take millions of litres per day from lakes, rivers, streams, ponds and groundwater sources across the province.

The advocacy group Environmental Defence said in a statement that it is pleased the government is proposing to extend the moratorium.

“The results of the review should be used to create evidence-based policies,” water program manager Kelsey Scarfone wrote. “Ontario needs to have modern water taking policies that prioritize Ontario’s groundwater for communities and safeguard water quantity for generations to come.”

Ontario Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said extending the moratorium is the right thing to do.

“It would be reckless and irresponsible to allow multinational companies to extract millions of litres of additional water per day without protecting our long-term water supply first,” Schreiner said in a statement.

“As it stands, our regulations do not prioritize water for public use, even as water is coming under increasing strain from the climate crisis.”

Both Schreiner and NDP critic Ian Arthur called on Yurek to immediately share the results of the government’s scientific review.

The Canadian Bottled Water Association said the industry only represents 0.01 per cent of water taking permits in the province.

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“In reviewing the province’s water-taking policies, it will be essential to consider the other 99.99 per cent of permitted water takings in the province,” the association said in a statement. “We would welcome the opportunity to work with the government of Ontario on developing a comprehensive water-quantity management strategy that takes into account the water usage of all sectors.”

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Nestle Waters Canada said in a statement that it welcomes the opportunity to further demonstrate its “commitment to the responsible stewardship of Ontario’s fresh water resources.”

“We have always agreed that new water bottling permits should be issued only when the science demonstrates a clear commitment to the health and sustainability of watersheds,” president Adam Graves wrote.

Comments are open on the government’s proposal until Dec. 18, then Yurek will make a final decision on the moratorium extension.

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