A new purchase by Nestlé is sparking calls for a boycott of the company and reform of the bottled water industry.
The Swiss bottled water giant recently purchased a well in Ontario that Centre Wellington, a small Canadian township, had been trying to buy, reports The Canadian Press.
According to Mayor Kelly Linton, the township had hoped to purchase the well to ensure that citizens had a guaranteed water supply "safe from commercial water taking." As the population of Centre Wellington grows, Linton says that more resources will be necessary — especially water.
Nestlé first placed a conditional offer on the well in March 2015. When the township made a counter-offer in July, Nestlé exercised its first right of refusal and proceeded with the purchase, which it will use as a supplementary water source for a nearby plant in Aberfoyle that bottles up to 3.6 million liters of water every day.
"Nestlé was unaware that the other offer was made by the Centre Wellington township, although, we have had productive discussions with the township since we announced our initial intention to purchase the Middlebrook Water Co.," the company says on its website. "We now look forward to working together and continuing discussions with them for the benefit of the whole community."
Since the news broke of Nestlé's well purchase, politicians such as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne have urged bottled water reform, while individuals are calling for a boycott of the company on social media.
The well controversy is just the latest in a battle between community activists and bottled water companies regarding who should have the right to access local Canadian resources.
At the most basic level of these disagreements is the question of fairness, and if companies are getting a better deal on water than local citizens.
For example, this summer, as locals faced water restrictions during a drought, Nestlé continued to extract water from the Aberfoyle well. Locals also argue that they are being charged more for this water, with nonprofit Wellington Water Watchers saying that locals pay roughly $1.50 per 1,000 liters of residential water, while Nestlé pays just $3.70 for every million liters.
"This commodification of a basic human necessity must stop," reads a petition publishedearlier this year by activist Amelia Meister. The petition, which now has more than 93,000 signatures, aims to deny Nestlé its Aberfoyle water-taking permit.
People have also expressed concern that bottling water could contribute to shortages, now and down the road.
"The danger is you’ll have private companies squatting on water rights, effectively denying citizens access to their water unless they pay a ransom," NDP environment critic Peter Tabuns said last week, according to the Globe and Mail.
Two thirds of indigenous communities in Canada are currently living under a drinking water advisory, and have been for the past decade.
And, with climate change, surrendering water supplies to bottled water companies could have unexpected consequences in the future.
While Centre Wellington may have lost its well to Nestlé, the bottled water battle in Canada is far from over.
"[I]mmediate improvements are needed when it comes to water bottling practices, particularly in the face of climate change, the increasing demand on water resources by a growing population, and concerns about water security," Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne wrote in a mandate letter to her cabinet released on Friday.
Beverage companies like Nestlé are increasingly investing in bottled water.
Bottled water sales have more than doubled in the US in the last 15 years, with Americans buying 11.7 billion gallons of the beverage in 2015. As consumers move away from sugary beverages like soda, bottled water is seen as a healthier option — despite the potential negative impact the industry can have on local communities.