Open Letter to Premier Wynne

February 28 2017
Hon. Kathleen Wynne
Premier of Ontario
Room 281, Legislative Assembly
Queen’s Park
Toronto ON M7A 1


OPEN LETTER

Dear Premier Wynne,

Further to our letter to you dated January 4th to which we have yet to receive a reply, we are writing to express our concerns about the process that your government has embarked upon with respect to bottled water in Ontario.  As the bottled water industry has clearly been singled out in every water taking related posting on the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) since October of 2016, our industry believes that we are entitled to communicate these concerns to you.

For context, the chronology of events has been as follows:

On October 17 2016, the first EBR notice, which proposes a two year moratorium on new or expanded water taking permits for bottled water companies only, was posted, ostensibly to allow the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) time to study a range of issues, including how to better manage water resources and, potentially, new rules for bottled water companies.  CBWA publicly supported this proposal, knowing that a scientific, factually based examination of these topics would strip away many of the myths about our industry and help the public to better understand the minimal impact that bottled water has on the environment and on communities.  Notably, this EBR posting states that new water resource management programs may be introduced, and that “a range of pricing mechanisms” would be examined. The closing date for comments was December 1, 2016.

On December 16 2016, a Government of Ontario news release stated that “more than 20,000 public comments were received” and went on to articulate that a decision had been taken to proceed.  We are left wondering how 20,000 public submissions were reviewed in two weeks.

On December 2 2016, the second bottled water specific EBR posting was published, a bottled water technical guidance document, which seeks commentary on procedural and technical requirements for bottled water companies to renew permits.  The closing date was January 31st.  

As you are aware, Ontario can only charge permit fees on the basis of recovering the government’s costs of administering its water resource management programs.  Our industry assumed that on the basis of the first two EBR postings referenced above, together with industry and stakeholder consultation, new programs would be created to optimally manage Ontario’s water, the costs of those programs calculated, and a new Permit to Take Water fee established for all commercial water takers, as has been the intent of the legislation since 2007.    

We were stunned therefore to read the third EBR posting specific to our industry dated January 18 2017 that sets out a new fee of $500 per million litres taken.  As well as being a remarkably round number, there is no justification, rhyme or reason offered for this number.  There is no program costing available.  As well as representing a 13,500% increase to our existing PTTW fee, this proposal is far in excess of the British Columbia rate of $2.25/million litres, where all water takers pay, and Quebec’s $70/million litres, where only bottled water companies pay.  Our attempts to obtain program costing have, to date been unsuccessful.  Needless to say, the CBWA will be responding to the latest EBR posting before the March 20th deadline.

Whether this $500 is based on those 20,000 submissions received last fall, or some new MOECC math is, at best, opaque.  We are very concerned about how this process is being conducted.

In our letter to you on January 4th we expressed our concern to you about your public comments to the Canadian Press in December regarding PTTW fees that “Absolutely that needs to go up, but the reason that we wanted a bit more time to look at this is, is that enough? Is it enough that the price just goes up?”  Specifically we said at that time “We are very concerned that those officials working on this within your government may now have had their work affected by the public comments they have seen made by the head of the government that employs them, and may lead to a biased outcome.”  Given that there appears to be no other basis for the $500 fee, our worst fears may have been realized.

Finally, we believe that the public debate would improve, and people in Ontario would be better assured, if a number of truths about the bottled water industry were made available to them.  Since we have not seen this information forthcoming from the MOECC, let us share them here, with the hope that your government may better educate the public:

  • Bottled water companies do not “buy” ground water from the provincial government for $3.71, $500 or any other amount.  Our member companies acquire land and extract ground water from their land, which would not otherwise be readily available to the public, package it and bring it to market.  The referenced dollar amounts are permit fees to take the water, nothing more;
  • The entire bottled water industry in Ontario is permitted to take 13 million litres of water per day.  This compares to 275 million litres per day for golf courses, 1.12 billion litres per day for pits mines and quarries, 2.214 billion litres per day for municipalities, and 2.278 billion litres per day for agriculture.  Total permitted water takings are over 7 billion litres of water per day. Our industry therefore represents 0.2% of all permitted water takings (source: MOECC)
  • For additional context, the entire Ontario bottled water industry takes as much water in a year as ten golf courses (there are 825 golf courses in Ontario);
  • One aggregate company located in or near Paris, Ontario has active permits for 91 million litres of water per day, or seven times our entire industry.  Our industry packages water for human hydration, unlike this company;
  • According to MOECC staff, bottled water companies take, as an industry average, 50% of the quantities they are permitted to take;
  • During 2016, reported as the hottest year on record, not one CBWA member company was ordered to stop or reduce their water takings by the MOECC.  Since not all Ontario companies are CBWA members, we have asked MOECC staff if they are aware of any such order.  They have not identified any;
  • Contrary to your comments to media questioning why consumers choose bottled water as an alternative to tap water, industry research conducted for our member companies, and market research conducted by Forum Research for CBWA confirms that this is not reality at all.  The vast majority of Ontarians drink tap water at home, and buy bottled water as an alternative to soft drinks, juices, etc.;
  • Your government’s decision to exempt bottled water companies who package municipal water from the new fees and rules may create an incentive for ground bottled water takers to switch to municipal supply.  As you are aware, many Ontario municipalities are not located on lakes or rivers, and depend on ground water for their citizens. From an environmental or scientific perspective, what would be the beneficial difference?  And how would that further secure municipal water supply, which is the concern that some members of the public have expressed?
  • Bottled water companies produce a very healthy zero calorie, zero sugar, zero alcohol product.  Companies who add sugar, food colouring or alcohol to the water that they take are exempt from the new fees and rules.  Has the Minister of Health and Long Term Care been consulted in this process? Have the health priorities of the government shifted?
  • We remind you that the Association of Professional Geoscientists of Ontario, under the authority of the provincial Professional Geoscientists Act (2000) have the responsibility to establish procedures and standards for matters such as the MOECC is currently examining.  Rather than being guided by public pressure, we recommend your government be guided by that credible organization.  

In summary Madam Premier, the actions of your government on this file since last fall suggest that your officials are creating a solution in search of a problem.  We have reservations about the integrity of this process as outlined above; given that any factual or scientific examination of this matter would conclude that bottled water represents no threat to the environment, municipalities, or the public, it appears that this process is being driven more by politics than anything else, to the detriment of our member companies and the approximately 2,000 Ontarians that they employ.  On their behalf, we would ask that your government stop this targeted approach to our industry, and examine questions of water management in this province on the basis of science, expert advice, and facts.

Sincerely,

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Elizabeth Griswold
Executive Director

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