By: Chris Pimentel and Lynda Powless
Nestle Canada needs Six Nations.
The multi-national company that can draw up to 4.7 million litres of water from Ontario aquifers is hoping to convince Ontario to re-approve a 10 year renewal of their water taking permit.
But new regulations require they consult with Six Nations if they want to continue to draw water from Six Nations traditional territory.
Nestle Canada met with the Six Nations Band Council’s Committee of the Whole (COW) Monday seeking their support of their permit renewal to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. The company wants to continue to operate its Aberfoyle and Erin plant locations .
“We would like to continue the conversation with the Six Nations of the Grand River, Chief and Council, to discuss potential partnerships, and move this forward, and we have a permit renewal application that is being submitted and we would like to get your support,” Andreanne Simard, Nestle Natural Resource manager told the committee.
Jennifer Kerr, Nestle’s Director of Corporate Affairs said any company that takes over 50,000 gallons of water from the ground needs a permit to do so.
Nestle’s permit renewal for its bottling plant in Aberfoyle, near Guelph, has become a flashpoint in the battle with environmentalists, farmers, community leaders and corporate interests.
Protests at their southern Ontario plants began when droughts and water restrictions began hitting the area in 2016.
At the same time Canadian Press revealed Ontario was only charging water bottling companies $3.71 per million litres of water.
Facing criticism, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said the fee was outdated and asked the environment minister to review permits.
The issue especially hit home in the Guelph area. Guelph is the largest city in Canada to rely solely on groundwater for its water supply. The water being taken in Aberfoyle is from the same aquifer that feeds Guelph’s supply.
Hit by droughts in the summers residents complained the company could deplete the aquifer the city relies on.
Nestle’s now has to prove to the ministry not only that they have consulted with Six Nations, but must address their concerns.
“The ministry understands the importance of effectively consulting with the First Nations and Indigenous groups about water taking within their traditional territories,” Anna Milner, Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change told Turtle Island News Monday.
“In addition to the ministry’s duty to consult, the ministry has asked Nestlé to engage these communities directly to listen to their concerns and work with them,” Milner said .
Nestle’s is required to provide documentation of their consultation activities as part of the submission. She said if issues remain unaddressed or Indigenous consultation efforts be unfulfilled, the ministry may require additional efforts to be made and positive relationships maintained.
During the sometimes testy meet and greet session Monday Elected Chief Ava Hill bluntly asked Nestle representatives “If Six Nations says we don’t agree with those permits, will you shut those plants down?”
Simard told the committee she can’t answer that question.“We are here to continue sharing with you, some of what you are hearing isn’t the truth,” said Simard.
“Well the truth is your taking the water out of the ground and we don’t want you too,” countered Elected Chief Hill.
After the meeting, Jennifer Kerr, Nestle’s Director of Corporate Affairs said that Nestle doesn’t want to close their plant. “There are 300 people who depend on those jobs, and that’s something that we don’t want to see happen,” said Kerr.
Elected Chief Hill told councillors Nestle had gone through Councillor Wray Maracle to get on the agenda.
Councillor Maracle said Nestle has been meeting with Six Nations Lands and Resources for two years and director Lonnie Bomberry agreed band council should listen to Nestle.
“But to make it clear to Nestle this is not a consultation, just a meet and greet,” said Councillor Maracle.
Elected Chief Hill warned Nestle “We don’t want to see any of your propaganda saying that we consulted with Six Nations.”
Simard told the meeting they have had a “good” relationship with Lands and Resources, participated in the Six Nations Community Awareness week and donated water to a local event.
Simard said that Nestle has two permits to draw water in Aberfoyle and the other in Erin.
In the case of Aberfoyle the permit came through the purchase of the well back in 2000.
Elected Chief Hill questioned why they were meeting,“was it because the ministry asked you to meet with Six Nations in order to get your permits renewed?”
Simard said Nestle reached out to the Elected Council as soon as they saw the Elected Council’s concerns.
“The government has recently come up with new regulations that is mandatory but we started that process back in 2015,” said Simard.
Councillor Dave Hill told Nestle, “the way I see it, is that we don’t need you, you guys need us.”
Councillor Sherri-Lynn Hill Pierce asked for Nestle external reports on the water. “Stop selling spring water it’s like fraud, it may change your guys’ perceptions, I didn’t agree with you guys coming here,” said Councillor Hill Pierce.
Councillor Carl Hill, said he would like to see an independent study on the impact on the ecosystem.
Simard said that Nestle has already shared data with Six Nations.
“We’ve shared our data, with Six Nations, and we have offered to pay for a consultant of your choice, and that offer still stands,” said Simard.
Simard asked if Six nations had any concerns.
Councillor Audrey Powless Bomberry accused the company of “ getting rich off of other people’s problems.”
At Six Nations the majority of residents rely on wells and ground water and have been under a boil water advisory for decades.
Asked if they are going to meet with Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council (HCCC), Kerr said they would like to continue to meet with all interested parties.
“We have intentions of meeting with everybody,” said Kerr.
Tracee Smith who works as a consultant with Nestle said, “We wanted to meet with the Elected Council first, and take advice on how to move forward,” said Smith.
The Council of Canadians, a non-profit social action organization, has called for a boycott of Nestle’s saying the Grand River watershed, where Nestle well and bottling plant are located, is a fragile ecosystem feeding into Lake Erie that must be protected.
“The Nestle well near Elora sits on the traditional territory of the Six Nations of the Grand River, 11,000 of whom do not have access to clean running water,” said council chair Maude Barlow.
Local activists and international environmental groups are pushing the province to reject Nestlé’s renewal application.
Ontario’s former environmental commissioner warned in a 2012 report called “Water-Taking: Leave Something for the Fish,” that the province wasn’t even recovering the cost of its water quality programs, and said full-cost water pricing would be a “powerful catalyst for water conservation.
Nestle, has said it was prepared to pay more if rates were increased, but only if all companies with water-taking permits face the higher fees.
Prices have increased in othr provinces. British Columbia instituted a charge of $2.25 per million litres in 2015 after giving it away for decades. Quebec, the other province with major bottled water operations, charges $70 per million litres.
Ontario permits allow municipalities, mining companies, golf courses and water-bottling companies, to take a total of 1.4 trillion litres out of surface and ground water supplies every day.
The committee accepted the presentation as information. Councillors Mark Hill, Helen Miller, C.W. Martin were absent.
(With CP and TIN Files)