Water Runs Free for Nestle Waters in British Columbia, But Opposition Grows

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Nestle Waters Canada is being deluged with criticism by Canadian environmentalists and ordinary citizens over its free and nearly-free access to water for its bottling operations from British Columbia to Ontario. But the company says it’s being picked on.

British Columbians now are on alert because Nestle Waters Canada, a unit of Switzerland-based Nestle Group, is taking 265 million liters of fresh water each year from a well in Fraser Valley—for no fee. Because of a lack of regulation of groundwater there, Nestle doesn’t even have to report how much water it is drawing for its bottling operations in the area, which employ 75 people.

“We have water that’s so clean and pure, it’s amazing,” Sharlene Harrison-Hinds, a local resident, told The Province newspaper. “And then they take it and sell it back to us in plastic bottles.”[more]

Someone who should know about water complained to the newspaper that BC’s “Wild West” lack of groundwater regulation—unique among Canadian provinces, according to the newspaper—is to blame. “No permit, no reporting, no tracking, no nothing,” David Slade, co-owner of a well-drilling company, said.

For its part, Nestle Waters Canada complained to the newspaper that its story focused on “our activities, despite the fact that agriculture, thermal power generators, municipalities and many other industries draw far more water from British Columbia’s many sub-watersheds and don’t monitor their takings in the completely transparent fashion that” it does. Not to mention, the company has bottled-water competitors that do the same thing.

All in all, Nestle Waters “draws an estimated less than 1 percent of the water available for drawing in the sub-watershed where it operates,” John Challinor, director of corporate affairs for the company, told brandchannel. Also, he said, “We have indicated our support for [BC’s] plan to charge us for water use” as revised water legislation moves forward next year. 

And one more thing: Nestle Waters Canada does pay, Challinor noted, for the water that it draws from another spot that has become controversial, in Guelph, Ontario. The problem there is that some environmental groups believe Nestle’s withdrawals should be under more scrutiny in part because some parts of the province have suffered drought conditions lately and Ontarians are worried about losing too much water to Nestle’s tap.

Well, Nestle sort of pays for that water: $3.71 (no zeroes missing) per million liters.

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