Bottled Conflict - A Fight For Water Rights

by alexJscott11 on November 9, 2017 - 8:23pm

Bottled water is an industry that, although extremely successful, has come under much scrutiny over the course of the (one could say) environmental revolution that has occurred over the past few decades. Nestle Global is the world’s largest food and beverage company, reporting 89.5 billion dollars in product sales in 2016 The tension that exists between this corporate giant and those opposing its water consumption hits close to home for residents of the City of Guelph, as a conflict exists over the practices (and existence) of the Nestle water extraction facility located in the nearby town of Aberfoyle. CBC News reports on a recent development regarding this issue in their article Province needs water management program to protect resource, says city of Guelph. The article reviews the recommendations from eight staff members on the City of Guelph council regarding Nestles misuse of water, as well as the response from the Ontario government and Nestle itself.


            The article addresses a number of different kinds of conflict that surround the issue, as well as some political and regulatory tools proposed to address them. The first (and most obvious) kind of conflict stems from the frustration felt from those who rely on aquifers in the Guelph and Aberfoyle regions regarding the fact that they take the brunt of the impact associated with mass water extraction, while receiving little to none of the benefits. This notion is catalyzed by the fact that bottled water companies are charged less than four dollars per millions litres of water extracted, therefore residences relying on water from the aquifer would not only fail to receive direct benefits in the form of compensation, but would not even receive indirect compensation via profit for their local government (which would theoretically be put back into the community). Secondly, one can infer (both from the article and a knowledge of current world views surrounding bottled water) that a behavioural conflict exists between the bottled water industry and those who support the modern ideology of the elimination of unnecessary packaging and waste. As previously stated, bottled water has been a sort of anti-poster child for this cause as water is a resource that (for a majority of Canadians) is freely and readily available sans-processing and therefore requires no need for non-reusable packing.


The reaction from the province to the comments made by council members of the City of Guelph highlights a change that has been occurring in the way some states manage resources in the sense that they are moving away from traditional command and control regulation towards co-management in partnership with stakeholders (or those who represent them). Although the motion to call a moratorium on Nestles water extraction was withdrawn, the fact that the province recognized and responded to the protests and rallies held by community members shows the progression towards a new structure of resource management. This method of dealing with conflict is not the first of its kind, as governments are progressively using public input and the generation of different kinds of opportunities for the public as a way to relieve tension between stakeholders with differing values and interests.


            The article also suggests that the issue lies in the realm of ecological uncertainty, as the council recommends that the province “develop an evidence and principle-based comprehensive water management program”. This statement implies that a sustainable management plan is not currently in effect or the one that is in effect is not suitable.





Nestle. (2016). Annual Report 2016.