That thud you heard last week was Nestlé Waters giving up its appeal to a decision made last fall by the Ministry of the Environment to grant them permission to take water from a Hillsburgh well with the caveat that their intake be reduced in times of drought. Nestlé's surrender is being seen as a victory by many of the local environmental groups, a capitulation by the industry that the unlimited taking of water from our local fresh water sources is going to be tougher row to hoe from this point on. But will that be the case?
To recap, Nestlé put in an application to take water from the Hillsburgh well last fall, and the Ministry of Environment gave them approval on condition that the amount of water they can take during periods of drought be restricted. Nestlé felt that they were being singled out unfairly, and that such restictions should apply to all permit holders and not just themselves. Nestlé launched an appeal, but before a tribunal could be struck, Nestlé reached an argreement with the province to have the restictions removed.
But environmental groups like the Wellington Water Watchers and the Council of Canadians launched their own appeal, and ultimately that tribual decided that the deal between
Nestlé and the province was not in the people's best interest, and suggested the matter go to a full hearing, at which point, early last week, Nestlé dropped their objections.
Nestlé was gracious in defeat saying that they weren't pursuing any further appeal due to cost to themselves and taxpayers, and the fact the permit itself only allows water taking through 2017. "We've got a little more than three years left on the permit," said company spokesperson John Challinor. "Who knows what the environmental conditions will be in the next three years."
I'm not sure future water conditions have ever been a consideration for Nestlé before, and, in fact, whenever such environemental considerations have been raised previously, they seemed to roll off the company's back. For several years now, local conservationists have battled Nestlé in the effort to preserve local water sheds from the company as they try to make a mint off putting water in a bottle and selling it, much of that struggle has been chronicled on this blog, but for the first time I can remember, a genuine victory over Nestlé by the grassroots has been achieved.
So does that mean we can count the days till Nestlé packs up their Aberfoyle operation? Doubtful, that Nestlé plant still runs relatively restriction free and has the support of the City of Guelph as one of our biggest employers locally. The perplexing, ongoing success of the bottled water industry, which, much like internet service providers and wireless phone companies, weren't around 20 years ago, looks to march on despite the relative safety of our tap water. People still turn their noses up at the idea of drinking from the tap, not so much out of safety, but from some apparent taste preferance, even though the bottled water comes from the same source as the tap and repeated blind taste tests prove that people either don't notice a difference, or prefer the local tap water.
So yes, a battle's been won, but the war is far from over. And like a lot of environmental issues, winning in the courts is just one small aspect of the change being sought. The rest is up to we the people to change hearts and minds, starting with the ones who walk out of the grocery store with seven or eight cartons of bottled water at a time.