Advocacy group wades into B.C. groundwater controversy


Following a groundswell of public concern this week, a national citizen advocacy group launched a campaign Thursday to pressure the B.C. government to modernize the century-old Water Act.

The Ottawa-based Council of Canadians issued an action alert urging citizens to reach out to Premier Christy Clark and Environment Minister Mary Polak in an electronic letter-writing campaign. The action followed the disclosure that Nestlé Waters Canada, a division of the world’s largest food company, is taking 265 million litres of groundwater each year from a well near Hope, without being required to measure, report or pay a penny for the operation.

The Council of Canadians website read: “Imagine a place where companies can take as much water as they want. They don’t need to ask permission from government or the community. And they don’t have to pay any fees for the water they use. Sound unbelievable? Well, it’s not – at least not in British Columbia.”

The situation did sound unbelievable to some observers. Gary Holman, the provincial NDP’s deputy environment critic, said Wednesday: “When you’re not even measuring the quantities, and we’re talking extremely large quantities … it seems absurd.

“The other thing is getting fair value for resources. We’re getting zero value,” Holman said.

B.C.’s Ministry of Environment has acknowledged these issues, and said that it plans to include groundwater

regulation in the proposed Water Sustainability Act, expected to be introduced into the legislature next year.

Just hours before the Council of Canadians launched the campaign, they received a reminder that such initiatives can be the early steps toward real results, said Emma Lui, the council’s national water campaigner.

Thursday morning, Lui said, her office scored a “huge victory” in a long-running campaign involving Nestlé Waters Canada’s water-taking rights in Wellington County, Ont.

Earlier this year, Ontario’s environment ministry removed restrictions from Nestlé’s water-taking permit that would require them to reduce water withdrawals during times of drought.

In response, the Council of Canadians and local conservation group Wellington Water Watchers launched an appeal, represented by legal service Ecojustice.

On Thursday, Ontario’s environmental review tribunal issued a ruling that the settlement between Ontario and Nestlé was not in the public interest, and was inconsistent with Ontario’s water legislation. The ruling calls for a full hearing into the matter.

Lui said their groundwater campaign in Ontario previously used action alerts similar to Thursday’s alert for B.C. “So this is very similar in that way,” she said.

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