Each day, Nestlé Canada Inc. has permission to withdraw more than one million litres of water from a well in the town of Hillsburgh, Ontario, and bottle it for sale. The Ontario government told Nestlé to reduce the amount of water it pumps from this aquifer during drought conditions. In 2012, Nestlé persuaded the government to remove these restrictions even though their removal might endanger the neighbouring community’s source of groundwater. In 2013, Wellington Water Watchers and The Council of Canadians sought Ecojustice’s help to challenge this deal at Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal.
At first, both Nestlé and the government tried to bar the groups from participating in the decision-making process. But Ecojustice staff argued that concerned citizens must be allowed to scrutinize a deal that affects their groundwater. The Tribunal agreed. Then we used scientific and legal arguments to show the Tribunal why this deal benefited Nestlé more than the local community.
The Tribunal decided that the deal appeared to be against the public interest and needed more public scrutiny. It ordered a full hearing. But before a hearing date was set, Nestlé withdrew their appeal and agreed to restrict the amount of water it pumps from the Ontario community during drought conditions. This victory protects the community’s groundwater and is the first of its kind in Ontario’s history.
Why was Ecojustice involved?
We believe that defending every Canadian’s right to participate in environmental decision-making is critical to ensure that industrial use of resources like groundwater do not trump people’s right to safe drinking water, clean air and a healthy environment.
What does this victory mean?
When drought conditions are present, the Ontario government must enforce mandatory restrictions on Nestlé’s water takings from the Hillsburgh community. The Tribunal’s ruling also affirmed the right of citizens to challenge decisions that may affect their environment. By siding with environmental groups, the Tribunal also confirmed the need for our governments to make decisions that put the protection of groundwater ahead of the needs of corporations.