First Anniversary of Ontario Moratorium on New Bottled Water Undertakings…But Nestle is Still Going Strong. Where's the Backlash?

by Helen L on November 10, 2017 - 4:41pm

In 2016, the Ontario government, under Premier Kathleen Wynne, proposed a moratorium on bottled water: A blanket ban on new and increased bottled water operations gaining water taking permits for a two-year period. Those with jobs on the line opposed the ban. But for everyone else, this was a long time coming (The Canadian Press, 2016).

Further changes proposed includes higher costs to water taking for commercial use – at the time the moratorium was still a prospect rather than a reality, companies such as Nestle would dish out as few as $3.71 per million litres of water…and then sell it out for over $2 per 500mL bottle. Furthermore, Wynne wanted to shorten the permit period from a decade to five years, requiring new analysis of their viability more often (The Canadian Press, 2016). This, in my opinion, is a key example of how material power can be exercised in an effective manner – and where other methods are much more likely to fail.

I remember when the ban went down. It was quiet, not picked up by major news articles until days later, but it marked a significant step towards protecting our freshwater supplies. At the time, I was working at the City of Mississauga under the Environmental Engineering team, and I was responsible for weekly “news blasts” of new proposals, policies, and regulations. I remember being very excited – and consequently realizing that none of my friends knew or really cared. Why not? The effects of the moratorium are monumental. On top of the two-year moratorium on new and expanded takings from groundwater sources, the government has also applied a new fee of $500 per million litres taken as well as more stringent rules for permit renewal (Government of Ontario, 2017).

Directly affected include Nestle employees and partners, as well as the local communities in Aberfoyle where Nestle head office is based (The Canadian Press, 2016). Indirectly, everyone is affected, and I do mean everyone.  Issues with bottled water range from economic to environmental, and we all consume water and use it in some manner. Past decades have been marked with heated debates about bottled and tap water. But then I realized that this is why the news flew under the radar: People want sensationalism. They don’t want to hear success stories that only directly impact company operations that appear obscure. They want the big scandals and scoops to keep them in the drama loop, because the bottled versus tap water debate has been going on for a very, very long time.

This debate is constantly stuck in the pre-problem and decline in interest stages of the issue-attention cycle. Interest is mainly piqued in local communities and rarely reaches wider circles or “makes waves” anymore (Leslie, 2016). Last year, prior to the moratorium, Nestle ran into controversy regarding water takings in drought-struck areas, both in Canada and in the States, in highly parched California (Leslie, 2016; Morris, 2016; Subramaniam, 2016). The same news headlines are circulating this year, demonstrating that Nestle is not about to stop their extractions in Canada, but perhaps shift focus to another source: California (CBS News, 2017; Kennedy& James, 2017). There, permits are cheaper at a single-time payment of $524, and many occur on public land (CBS News, 2017).

In that regard, Wynne’s moratorium appears to be effective. But what does that do for the communities that have already been impacted by bottling operations, such as Wellington County in Ontario (The Canadian Press, 2016)? The next obvious step would be to reduce allowed water takings, but that would be a hard uphill battle, especially since profits are on the line. However, considering that the moratorium received over 20,000 comments during the public consultation period when proposals rarely gain over a hundred, I would consider what we have now tentative, and not quite perfect, but a success nonetheless (The Canadian Press, 2016).



References and further reading:

CBS News. (2017). Nestle faces backlash over collecting water from drought-hit California. CBS News. Retrieved from

Government of Ontario. (2017). New rules and fees to protect water in Ontario. Retrieved from

Kennedy, C.S., & James, I. (2017). Nestle pipes water from national forest, sparking protests. USA Today. Retrieved from

Leslie, K. (2016). Nestle continues to extract water from Ontario town despite drought: Activists. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from

Morris, R. (2016). Nestle: Bottling water in drought-hit California. BBC News. Retrieved from

Subramaniam, V. (2016). A look into Nestle’s controversial water bottling business in Canada. VICE. Retrieved from

The Canadian Press. (2016). Ontario’s plan for new bottled water operations moratorium gets broad support. CBC News. Retrieved from