The B.C. government is under fire for their lack of water regulations, which allows companies to use and resell millions of litres of water without paying a cent to the province.
The Nestlé Waters Canada operates in Hope, B.C. and uses 230 million litres of fresh water every year from an aquifer in the Fraser Valley. It’s the same aquifer the residents of the valley use for their water.
The food and beverage giant is not required to measure, report or pay for the water because of B.C.’s lack of regulations on its use. Nestlé then takes the ‘free’ water and sells it back to consumers across Western Canada.
This has left Fraser Valley residents wondering if their portion of that underground supply could soon run out.
“They weren’t concerned with having to pay for water,” says Sheila Muxlow, The Water Wealth Project. “But if they were going to have to pay for water they wanted to see everybody have to pay for water. That’s an issue for us because corporations are not local residents.”
Local residents have also watched as the plant has grown. They are not only worried about the water but also about the overall impact on the area.
“We’ve been talking to and writing letters to Nestlé’s for many years now,” says Sue Savola, Kw’o:kw’e:hala Eco Retreat. “We’ve had meetings with the town council and it was never designed to be a large scale plant… now it’s a 24/7 operation and it was never designed to be that.”
There are some residents that say you need to look at the bigger picture and there are positive results to having the water bottling giant in Hope – like helping build the town’s economy.
And for its part, Nestlé says it has the support of the community.
“We are very entrenched in Hope, we’re the largest employer, we have 75 employees,” says John B. Challinor, Director of Corporate Affairs, Nestlé Waters Canada. “Every two years we host an open house for people to tour the plant and we did not receive a single complaint about our business.”
Regardless of support for or against Nestlé, the free water has many wondering why there are no regulations when it comes to groundwater in this province and are calling for changes.
“We’re the only province in the country that doesn’t regulate groundwater,” says New Democrat MLA Mike Farnworth. “I think that’s really concerning because it’s such an important public resource in the province of B.C. and the idea that’s it’s not regulated it’s insane.”
The government is saying they will come out with a water sustainability act next year but they’ve not indicated whether the act will charge companies like Nestlé.
~with files from Jill Bennett