Groundwater Protection in Wellington County: The Battle Over Water Bottling 2000 2018

In 2000, Nestlé bought Aberfoyle Springs along with a water bottling plant and two wells in Wellington County, Ontario. In late 2006, a group of Guelph and area residents organized and launched a campaign opposing water bottling.

2000

Nestlé Buys Aberfoyle Springs

Nestlé's Perrier Vittel Group purchases Aberfoyle Springs, acquiring the Aberfolye, Ontario well and bottling plant, the Hillsburgh Well, and a well and bottling plant in Hope, B.C.

2002

Early Battle in Elora

The Middlebrook Water Company outside Elora, Ontario, applies for a water-taking permit for bottling. Citizens mount successful opposition.

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2002

Early Battle in Elora

Residents of Elora oppose water bottling there in an early battle against the industry, setting the stage for a battle with Nestlé beginning in 2015.

The Middlebrook Water Company outside Elora, Ontario, applies to take one million litres per day for bottling operations. Citizens there organize opposition, including a petition containing 2,300 signatures. The company receives a permit, but for 240,000 litres per day rather than the one million litres per day as requested. Eventually the company fails and the well falls into disuse, until Nestlé Waters Canada buys the property in 2015.

Controversial permit watered down—for now

Elora, May 20, 2003 by Mercury Staff

A hotly-contested water-taking permit has been issued for the Centre Wellington bottled water firm. But Richard Beckham will not get the one million litres per day he was seeking to start up his Middlebrook Water Company, at least not right away.

The Ministry of the Environment has approved extraction of 240,000 litres of water per day, until May 31, 2005, from the site of a former chicken processing plant on Middlebrook Road, next to the Elora Gorge Conservation Area.

“I am so pleased that it’s not a million,” said Keith Ritchie of the Centre Wellington Citizens Coalition, which lobbied against the application.

The group submitted a petition with 2,300 signatures to Queen’s Park two weeks ago, calling for a moratorium on issuing commercial water-taking permits, and for stronger protection of water resources from commercial sale... Read More

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2006

Wellington Water Watchers is Born

Observing late-night trucking activity at the former Aberfoyle Springs, a local resident starts to wonder what is going on.

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2006

Wellington Water Watchers is Born

Fall, 2006

Observing late-night trucking activity at the former Aberfoyle Springs, a local resident starts to wonder what is going on. His investigations reveal that the site now belongs to Nestlé, and that Nestlé has a provincial permit to take water that is due for renewal in the following spring. Shortly thereafter, a small group of local residents and environmentalist gather around a dining room table. Wellington Water Watchers is born, and the effort to stop water bottling in Wellington County is launched.

Water Battle Brews Grassroots organization takes on water bottler

Guelph, April 12, 2007 by Joanne Shuttleworth

As folks who turned up for a meeting of the Wellington Water Watchers raised a glass — of tap water — and toasted the clear, fresh, life-giving liquid, it was an unspoken battle cry.

On Tuesday night, some 80 people attended the second meeting of the Wellington Water Watchers, a group concerned with water issues in Guelph and Wellington County.

It marked the stirrings of another grassroots resistance to a multinational corporation, echoing the decade-long battle to keep Wal-Mart out of the city.

While the water group advocates conservation, the project of the day is a postcard campaign to keep Nestle Waters Canada from obtaining a permit that, if approved, would allow the Aberfoyle company to take up to 3.6 million litres of water a day for the next five years... Read More

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2007

The Battle Begins

Nestlé applies for a permit to take up to 3.6 million litres per day at the Aberfoyle well and the community responds.

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2007

The Battle Begins

Nestlé applies for a five-year permit to take up to 3.6 million litres per day at the Aberfoyle well, and the battle to against water bottling heats up.

War Over Our Water: A who’s who in the city’s latest, brand new and ballooning grassroots fight — this time against Nestle’s bottling operations in Aberfoyle

Guelph, May 5, 2007 by Scott Tracey

Six weeks ago, the Wellington Water Watchers did not exist.

Now the Guelph-based grassroots organization boasts more than 200 paid members. Its website has been viewed more than 5,000 times and has spawned a knock-off site, apparently registered to a corporation based in Mumbai, India, and seemingly designed to steer cyber-surfers away from the actual Wellington Water Watchers site.

In the last two weeks the group has brought federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May and Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow to the Royal City. At a recent strategy session, the Wellington Water Watchers’ name was being thrown about like you’d have to be living under a rock to not know who they are or what they’re about... Read More

Wellington Water Watchers launches a media and postcard campaign to oppose the permit renewal, generating over 6,000 letters of opposition.

As a long time citizen of Guelph, I am concerned about our Aberfoyle Springs watershed. I am against the renewal of Nestlé’s water taking permit. Let’s keep our water public!

Nestlé keeps pumping on its previous permit, and opposition continues to spread in the community. Inundated with a far larger public response than ever before, the Ministry of the Environment delays decision-making.

This same year, Hillside Music Festival goes bottled water free.

The Best Things in Life are Free by Brian Fray.

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2008

Nestlé’s Permit Extended

Nestlé’s permit renewal is approved, but for two years instead of five, and with some new conditions.

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2008

Nestlé is granted a two-year permit for water-taking

April, 2008

Nestlé’s permit renewal is approved, but is held to two years rather than the five years requested, and with “additional and more comprehensive monitoring conditions” at the Aberfoyle site, including increases in “the frequency of measurement and the number of gradient monitoring locations” as well as “habitat and ecological studies.”

The influence of grassroots opposition is apparent, but the Wellington Water Watchers and their networks are utlimately disappointed. In the same month, Wellington Water Watchers gets incorporated.

Nestlé permit capped

Guelph, April 18, 2008 by Doug Hallett

Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment has decided to heed city council’s advice and renew Nestlé’s water-taking permit in Aberfoyle only for two years, not the five years the company had been seeking.

Wellington Water Watchers, a local group that vigorously opposed Nestlé’s application last year for a five-year renewal, is unhappy the company will be allowed to keep withdrawing up to 3.6 million litres of water a day in Aberfoyle for its water bottling plant there, said the group’s co-founder Mark Goldberg. “However, we are quite happy that they took the city’s advice” on the shorter renewal term, he said Thursday... Read More

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2009

Ontario Introduces Levy on Groundwater-taking

Beginning January 1, large-scale water takers will pay $3.71 per litre.

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2009

Ontario Introduces Levy on Groundwater-taking

January, 2009

Beginning January 1, large scale water-takers in Ontario have to pay a levy of $3.71 per million litres to the Province of Ontario. The levy was created as a means of recovering some of the costs of the permitting system and is explicitly not intended to represent a “price” for the purchase of water.

Even pumping at their permitted maximum of 4.7 million litre per day (3.6 million in Aberfoyle and 1.1 million in Hillsburgh), Nestlé Waters Canada would still pay no more than $17 per day.

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2010

Message in the Bottle

Wellington Water Watcher receives funding and develops water education programs (2009-10 and 2010-11 school years).

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2010

Wellington Water Watchers Community Programs

Message in the Bottle (2009-2011)

Message in the Bottle

Wellingtom Water Watcher receives funding, hires an executive director and project staff, and designs and delivers water education (and refillable bottles) to 20,000 Grade 6 kids across the Upper Grand District School Board for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Focused on conservation and on generating active environmental stewardship, Message in a Bottle engaged dozens of volunteer educators and thousands of Grade 6 students in learning about their water, where it comes from, and how to maintain a secure, safe, and accessible supply into the future.

To get kids to appreciate, value and take advantage of the high-quality public water systems available in most Canadian municipalities, Wellington Water Watchers distributes thousands of refillable stainless steel water bottles at cost ($5 each) as an affordable and sustainable alternative to packaged water. Nestlé is not impressed.”

Nestlé miffed by presentation at schools Wellington Water Watchers has spoken at both Catholic and public schools

Guelph, May 22, 2010 by Joanne Shuttleworth

Neither the local Catholic nor the public school board wants to wade into the stormy waters that rage between Nestlé Waters Canada and the Wellington Water Watchers, and they don’t see allowing the local water watchdog to make presentations in schools as taking sides.

“Not a lot of content is delivered to students by Wellington Water Watchers,” Don Drone, director of the Wellington Catholic District School Board said Thursday. “For us the message is conservation. Anything we can do to conserve is good.”

John Challinor, director of corporate affairs for Nestlé Waters Canada, says he sent letters to both the Upper Grand and Wellington Catholic District School Board complaining that Wellington Water Watchers is spreading incorrect information when it makes presentations to school children. “Their information is not foot-noted,” Challinor said in an interview earlier this week... Read More

Blue W

Blue W Program

In the same year, Wellington Water Watchers brings the Blue W program to Guelph. The Blue W program encourages downtown store owners to post a blue W in their window to invite people looking for water to go in and refill their bottles for free. The City of Guelph gives Wellington Water Watchers a Water Conservation Award in recognition of its work.

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2011

Water Walks and Foodstock

An activist from Fergus walks from Guelph to Queen’s Park and a mega-quarry being proposed on farmland at the headwaters of the Grand River watershed is stopped.

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2011

Water Walks and Foodstock

Water Walks to Protest Bottling

Shane Phillips conducts solo protest walk from Guelph to Queen’s Park.

A lone Fergus activist, Shane Phillips, conducts a solo walk from Guelph to Queen’s Park in Toronto to protest Nestlé’s water taking initiatives. His walk inspires other protest marches to Queen’s Park in that same year, and to the gates of Nestlé’s bottling plant in Aberfoyle in subsequent years.

Foodstock

Wellington Water Watchers joins with Food and Water First and Canadian Chefs Congress at Foodstock to protest a proposed mega-quarry in Melanchton, Ontario, that would destroy productive farmland and threaten source water at the headwaters of the Grand River system. A galvanizing event in the months-long effort to oppose the proposed quarry, some 20,000 people attend Foodstock despite frigid October rain. The proponents of the quarry rescind their application and the quarry is stopped. Foodstock inspires Waterstock in 2017.

Foodstock

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2012

Nestlé Renewal in Hillsburgh; RiverFest Goes Bottle-free

Nestlé applies for the renewal of a permit to pump up to 1.1 million litres per day and RiverFest Elora gets rid of bottled water.

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2012

Nestlé Renewal in Hillsburgh; RiverFest Goes Bottle-free

Nestlé Receives Permit Renewal then Appeals Permit Conditions

Nestlé applies for the renewal of a permit to pump up to 1.1 million litres per day from their well in Hillsburgh in the Town of Erin, Ontario, for bottling in Aberfoyle. Local residents pack the municipal town hall to overflowing to show opposition to the permit renewal. Erin Town Council passes a unanimous resolution expressing opposition to the permit renewal.

Despite local opposition, Nestlé receives permit renewal for five years (September 28). The permit stipulates that Nestlé must reduce its water-taking during drought, but also provides for a “spike rate” to enable Nestlé to surpass its normal daily limit once drought subsides. Less than two weeks later, Nestlé appeals the permit on the grounds that mandatory drought reductions depart with the past practice of voluntary drought reductions and is therefore unfair to Nestlé (October 11).

RiverFest Gets Rid of Bottled Water

RiverFest Elora

With the cash and volunteer support of Wellington Water Watchers, RiverFest Elora rents a Quenchbuggy and provides municipal water to festival goers, vendors and artists for free. Organizers estimate conservatively that the move eliminates some 20,000 plastic bottles from the waste bin each year.

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2013

Nestlé Appeals Drought Restrictions

Wellington Water Watchers, with Council of Canadians and EcoJustice, challenge Nestlé in an environmental review tribunal to maintain mandatory water-taking reductions during drought.

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2013

Nestlé Appeals Drought Restrictions

Wellington Water Watchers, with Council of Canadians and EcoJustice, challenge Nestlé in an environmental review tribunal to maintain mandatory water-taking reductions during drought, and win. The appeal decision sets the tone for changes to the permitting system enacted in 2017.

The appeal attracts local and national news coverage. Nestlé presents in the media as a leader in water conservation and a victim of unfair treatment, as local criticism of Nestlé's actions grows.

Nestlé cuts their losses and withdraws their appeal. Activist and environmental lawyers declare victory. By the end of 2017, mandatory drought reductions are standard for all permits to take water for bottling.

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2015

Nestlé Moves to Buy Middlebrook Well

Nestlé makes an offer for the purchase of the Middlebrook Well near Elora that is conditional upon a successful pump test, which requires a permit from the Province.

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2015

Nestlé Makes Conditional Offer on Middlebrook Well

Nestlé Looks to Expand

Nestlé starts exploring the possibility of expanding water-taking by buying the Middlebrook Well near Elora, Ontario. Residents of Elora hear about Nestlé’s plans and get organized, first as Friends of Elora Water and then later as Save Our Water.

Nestlé makes an offer on the purchase of the Middlebrook Well. The purchase is conditional upon the results of a pump test, which requires a permit from the Province. In October, Nestlé applies for the permit.

Permit Process Stalls

Save Our Water, with the suport of Wellington Water Watchers, submits technical positions on the permit application and organizes numerous interventions during the public comment period accompanying the permit applications process, rallies opposition in the community, and politicizes the issue by encouraging people to contact the Premier and the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change directly. The permitting process stalls, and no decision is rendered on Nestlé’s application until late in the following year.

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2016

Water-bottling Issues at Middlebrook and Premier Wades In

Nestlé acquires the Middlebrook Well and is allowed to continue pumping in Aberfoyle on an expired permit. Frustration spikes in the community and pressure grows for the goverment to do something.

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2016

Water-bottling Issues at Middlebrook and Premier Wades In

Nestlé acquires the Middlebrook Well, near Elora, despite the local Township’s interest in acquiring the well for the future water needs of its growing population. As controversy builds over this event and as prolonged drought sets in, pressure grows on the government to do something. In mid-August, Premier Kathleen Wynne starts to acknowledge the problem. By the end of the year, the Province announces a two-year moratorium on new permits to take water for bottling beginning January 1, 2017. Nestlé takes immediate action to find a way around the moratorium and to build support for future applications in Centre-Wellington.

Nestlé Purchases Middlebrook Well

A decision on Nestlé’s pump test permit application for Middlebrook Well is still not forthcoming. Local water activists have held Nestlé off for the moment at least. A second party makes an offer to buy the Middlebrook Well, and Nestlé therefore waves its conditions and purchases the property outright.

The second party turns out to be the Township of Centre-Wellington, which, anticipating a need for the well to meet needs of its growing population, makes an unconditional bid at a higher price than Nestlé’s initial offer. The ensuing controversy draws national and international attention to Nestlé Waters' activities in Wellington County once again. Responding to the outcry spreading through the community and elsewhere in the province, the Premier weighs in calling the permit-to-take-water system “out-dated” and in need of reform.

Nestlé applies for a permit renewal for water-taking in Aberfoyle, but the MOECC does not respond, leading Nestlé to continue pumping on an expired permit through drought. Despite Nestlé's well-publicized enactment of voluntary reductions in their water-taking rate, criticism of the permitting system grows louder and the Premier once again weighs in.

Nestlé’s permit for pumping Aberfoyle expires in middle of prolonged drought, but having duly filed an application for renewal with the MOECC, Nestlé is allowed to continue pumping and bottling on the basis of the previous permit. The permitting system has appeared to have stalled, and grassroots pressure on the provincial government to change it spikes. The Premier calls the situation “inappropriate,” and says that new rules are needed for commercial water-takers.

Permit Process Reviewed

The Premier’s mandate letter to MOECC instructs the Minister to review permit conditions for water bottlers. The Province proposes two-year moratorium on new permits or permit expansions for water taking for bottling in order to review and update regulations. The proposal gets wide-spread support from Ontarions, with more than 20,000 responses during the public comment period.

A moratorium on new permits to take water for bottling and on expanded water taking for bottling is established beginning January 1, 2017. Nestlé’s renewal applications for Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh can proceed, under new regulations once they are established, but no permit will be issued for pumping at the Middlebrook Well at least until the moratorium ends on December 31, 2018. Anticipating the moratorium proposal, Nestlé holds talks with Centre-Wellington councillors about sharing access to Middlebrook water.

Word of Nestlé’s talks with township council members triggers renewed protest in the community. Under pressure, Township Council rejects Nestlé’s offer, setting the course for a May 2018 statement opposing water-taking for bottling.

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2017

Two Year Moratorium on Permits for Bottlers and New Regulations

The two-year moratorium on new permits and permit expansions for water bottlers in Ontario begins. Nestlé looks for ways around it and support for future applications through municipal governments.

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2017

Two Year Moratorium on Permits for Bottlers and New Regulations

The two-year moratorium on new permits and permit expansions for water bottlers in Ontario begins. Nestlé looks for ways around it and support for future applications through municipal governments.

January 1, 2017: In response to grassroots pressure, the Province initiates a two-year moratorium on new permits and permit expansions for water bottlers in Ontario, and strengthens regulations in a number of ways:

  • Fees for water-taking for bottling raised from $3.71 per million litres to $503.71 per million litres
  • Public comment period on applications for permits increased from 30 days to a 60-day minimum
  • Drought reductions are made mandatory on all subsequent permits for bottlers
  • Notification of, and consultation with, affected indigenous communities made mandatory (although not defined)
  • Additional and more stringent scientific conditions are added to application and permitting process

Nestlé seeks support from Township Councils

Looking for a way around the moratorium, and seeking support for future applications, Nestlé approaches municipal governments in Wellington County.

January 2017: Nestlé approaches councillors in Centre-Wellington for one-on-one meetings about their water-taking plans. Individual councillors object, and controversy grows in the community as news of the proposed meetings becomes public.

April 2017: Nestlé offers to pay a ‘voluntary levy’ to the Township of Erin for water taken from the Hillsburgh Well. Amid controversy, the Town Council accepts in a 4–1 vote.

Dissatisfied, water activists dig in

Dissatisfied with regulation changes and recognizing the temporary nature of the moratorium, Wellington Water Watchers and associated groups ramp up their campaign, toward the June 2018 provincial election, calling on all parties and candidates to commit to passing policy for a complete phase-out of permits to take water for bottling in Ontario.

Water for Life Not Profit

Water For Life Not Profit

The Water for Life Not Profit campaign garners international attention, wins the support of thousands of Ontarions, and triggers policy change at the Provincial level. The campaign engages other networks and organizations, and thousands of Ontarians in calling on the Premier and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to take the following actions:

  1. Deny Nestlé permits for continued water taking in Hillsburgh and Aberfoyle, and for expanding its water-taking to Middlebrook Well in Elora
  2. Establish a policy and process for phasing out all water-taking permits for bottlers in Ontario over the next 10 years
  3. Respect to duty to consult with indigenous communities on water-taking permits
  4. Ensure public ownership and control over water in Ontario

Waterstock

Waterstock Poster

As part of the Water for Life Not Profit campaign, more than 3,000 people gather at the Erin, Ontario, fairgrounds to eat fine food, enjoy some music, to "SayNoToNestlé", and to press for a phase-out of permits to take water for for-profit bottling in Ontario.

Fall-Winter 2017

Water activists keep the pressure on with drama, petitions, rallies and continued letter-writing to the Premier and Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

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2018

Water For Life Not Profit Campaign Presses Towards Provincial Election

Wellington Water Watchers builds a network of allies and supporters, registers as a ‘third party election advertiser’, and pushes to make the phase-out of permits to take water for bottling an election issue.

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2018

Water For Life Not Profit Campaign Presses Towards Provincial Election

Wellington Water Watchers builds a network of allies and supporters, registers as a ‘third party election advertiser’, and pushes to make the phase-out of permits to take water for bottling an election issue.

Mainstreet Research Poll

Do you think that the permits of bottled water taking should be phased out in Ontario?
Mainstreet Research poll: Do you think that the permits of bottled water taking should be phased out in Ontario?

Mainstreet Research poll finds that 64% of Ontarions, across political party lines, support phasing out permits for for-profit bottlers in 10 years. 57% support a 2-year phase out.

Wellington Water Watchers and SumOfUs rally outside of Queen’s Park and deliver a petition with more than 110,000 signatures from Ontarians demanding a phase-out of permits for water bottlers.

Mayor and Council of Centre-Wellington unanimously pass a motion declaring that the township is “not a willing host to any new commercial water bottling operation or the taking of water for that purpose under any circumstances.” Centre Wellington issues a press release asking the Province to extend the moratorium on permits for water bottlers, due to end January 1, 2019, to 2023.

New Government Elected, Raising New Questions for Water Protection

Government changes in Ontario, raising new questions about the direction the government will take on water bottling. The Wellington Water Watchers and associated groups dig in, and the battle continues; but the timeline ends here (at least for now!)

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