TORONTO – Ontario is proposing to extend a moratorium on water bottling permits for nine months to give the government more time to consider the science behind it.
Over the past year, the government reviewed the state of water resources in key areas of the province and the effect that taking water out of the ground has on those resources, a spokesman for Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said.
“The people of Ontario want confidence that the quantity and quality of water resources are protected, now and into the future, by good policy that is based on solid science and evidence,” Andrew Buttigieg said in a statement. “This is why we are also going to look to have the science and data reviewed and verified by a third-party.”
Extending the moratorium would also give the government more time to consult with the public, stakeholders and Indigenous communities, Buttigieg said.
The moratorium on new and expanded permits to take water for bottling was put in place by the former Liberal government in 2017 after bottled water giant Nestle purchased a well near Guelph that the township of Centre Wellington wanted for its future drinking water supply.
The Progressive Conservative government extended it last year, and with the new expiry date of Jan. 1 looming, the Tories are looking to push that back to Oct. 1.
The Liberals also hiked the fee that water bottlers must pay for every million litres of groundwater they take, from $3.71 to $503.71.
Water bottling companies have been allowed to take millions of litres per day.
The advocacy group Environmental Defence said in a statement that it is pleased the government is proposing to extend the moratorium.
“The results of the review should be used to create evidence-based policies,” water program manager Kelsey Scarfone wrote. “Ontario needs to have modern water taking policies that prioritize Ontario’s groundwater for communities and safeguard water quantity for generations to come.”
Ontario Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said extending the moratorium is the right thing to do, and called on Yurek to immediately share the results of the government’s review.
“It would be reckless and irresponsible to allow multinational companies to extract millions of litres of additional water per day without protecting our long-term water supply first,” Schreiner said in a statement.
“As it stands, our regulations do not prioritize water for public use, even as water is coming under increasing strain from the climate crisis.”
Nestle Waters Canada said in a statement that it welcomes the opportunity to further demonstrate its “commitment to the responsible stewardship of Ontario’s fresh water resources.”
“We have always agreed that new water bottling permits should be issued only when the science demonstrates a clear commitment to the health and sustainability of watersheds,” president Adam Graves wrote.
Comments are open on the government’s proposal until Dec. 18, then Yurek will make a final decision on the moratorium extension.
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