TORONTO — Ontario is proposing a two-year hold on the creation or expansion of bottled water plants as the government moves to strengthen the rules around water taking permits.
The Canadian Press has learned the province plans to impose stricter scientific requirements for water taking permits such as studies on the cumulative impact of the practice on local supplies, especially during droughts.
A source familiar with the announcement says the Liberals also want more public transparency, and will mandate that companies create websites listing information about their water taking permits and showing the actual amounts taken every week.
However, there will not be any immediate increase in the $3.71 the province charges for every one million litres of water taken, which the source says the government is still reviewing.
The Liberals want to address issues around water taking as they relate to their fight against climate change, which experts believe is leading to more severe weather conditions, including droughts. And they believe the changes being proposed will help address the public's concerns about safe and secure supplies of drinking water.
The province wants to make it mandatory for bottled water companies to reduce water takings during droughts like the one experienced this year in Wellington county, 100 kilometres west of Toronto.
Nestle voluntarily reduced the amount of water it takes from its wells in the region this year when the Level 2 drought forced local residents to restrict water use on lawns and for washing cars.
The government will post its proposed changes for water taking permits on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry Monday for 45 days of public comment.
The proposal to pause any new bottling operations in Ontario means Nestle would not be allowed to apply for a permit at a new well it purchased in Centre Wellington that the township had wanted for its drinking water.
Mayor Kelly Linton said last week that Nestle did nothing wrong because it followed the existing rules, which he called on the province to change so municipalities get a better chance at securing a safe drinking water supply than a bottling company.
Nestle would still be able to renew its permits to take up to 3.6 million litres of water a day from its well in Aberfoyle, where it has a bottling plant, and another 1.1 million litres a day at a well in nearby Erin, another community in Wellington county.
Premier Kathleen Wynne ordered a review of the province's water taking permits to be completed this fall, and said she wants new rules just for bottled water companies.
"Water bottling is a different kind of industry and we need to treat it differently, Wynne said earlier this month.
In addition to the $3.71 per million litres, Ontario charges companies a permit fee of $750 for low- or medium-risk water takings, or $3,000 for those considered a high risk to cause an adverse environmental impact. Ontario's environmental commissioner says 30 per cent of the water taking permits are in the highest risk category.
British Columbia charges $2.50 for every million litres, while Quebec charges $70.
Municipalities, mines, construction companies and golf courses — in addition to the water-bottling companies — are allowed to take a total of 1.4 trillion litres out of Ontario's surface and ground water supplies every day.
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Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press