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In the 'Wild West' of Water, Nestlé Gets Free Pass to Bottle the Commons

British Columbia Resident: 'We have water that’s so clean and so pure. And then they take it and sell it back to us in plastic bottles.'

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Nestle withdrawing millions of litres of water without payment. WaterWealth Project director Sheila Muxlos stands outside their bottling plant in Hope, British Columbia.(Photo: Wayne Leidenfrost / PNG)International food giant Nestlé is striking gold in British Columbia—dubbed the 'Wild West' of water regulation—extracting hundreds of millions of liters of fresh groundwater each year without paying a cent.

As the only province in Canada that doesn’t regulate groundwater use, B.C. residents are calling on the provincial government to update the century-old Water Act saying that, without doing so, B.C. is ripe for such abuse. “The province does not license groundwater, charge a rental for groundwater withdrawals or track how much bottled water companies are taking from wells,” said a Ministry of Environment spokesperson.

“It’s really the Wild West out here in terms of groundwater," added Linda Nowlan, conservation director from World Wildlife Fund Canada.

Any measurements or documentation of groundwater extraction are undergone on a "voluntary" basis by the corporation. According to Canadian paper The Province, Nestlé is extracting 265 million liters (or roughly 70 million gallons) of water each year from one well alone.

“It’s unsettling,” said WaterWealth Project campaign director Sheila Muxlow. “What’s going to happen in the long term if Nestlé keeps taking and taking and taking?”

“We have water that’s so clean and so pure, it’s amazing. And then they take it and sell it back to us in plastic bottles,” adds Sharlene Harrison-Hinds, a resident of Hope, B.C. which relies on the same aquifer being tapped by Nestlé.

Though Nestlé is the largest bottled water seller in B.C., others, including Whistler Water and Mountain Spring Water, are also tapping into the free flow of groundwater in this region.

“Outside of the fact that they are draining the size of a small lake on an annual basis without any sort of accountability," Muxlow adds, "this is a microcosm of a larger failure with the way B.C.’s water is managed.”

Facing mounting environmental cuts and a government effort led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to privatize all of Canada's drinking water, citizen advocacy group the Council of Canadians is leading a movement to protect the country's freshwater sources. Arguing that water is part of a "shared commons," they write, "water is a human right and as such, must be protected from privatization, pollution and bulk exports."

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