A local advocacy group is calling for an overhaul of the provincial Water Act.
The WaterWealth Project argues that a lack of water regulations in B.C. currently allows companies, such as Nestlé Waters Canada, to bottle and resell the natural resource for free. The food and beverage giant is not required to measure, report or pay for the 269 million litres of water it draws annually from the Kawkawa Lake sub-watershed – the same aquifer shared with the District of Hope.
“The government in Victoria is not responsibly ensuring that the natural resources we have in the province are being used to the best interest and to the most benefit of the people who live here,” said campaign director Sheila Muxlow.
The WaterWealth Project is advocating for water law reform that respects Aboriginal rights and title, 100 per cent community control over decisions that impact regional waters, and the implementation of strong safeguards for water from contamination, pollution and diversions.
Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness acknowledges that it’s time to modernize the Water Act and supports a provincial framework that addresses some of these concerns.
“We charge the residents of Hope and the residents of the City of Chilliwack to use water, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t be charging something for industry,” he said. “There needs to be an incentive to use water efficiently and I would see that as some kind of a price on what is a valuable resource.”
The provincial government has promised a Water Sustainability Act in 2014 which will protect aquifers and drinking water resources, as well provide a fair framework for industry to work within.
“There’s going to be a white paper that’s coming out in the next couple months which will basically be the draft legislation,” said Throness. “We’re going to get comments on that and I am going to represent my constituents who are telling me there needs to be some kind of charge on water for industry.”
Nestlé Waters Canada currently pays a water usage fee for its operation in Ontario and would have no problem doing the same here if provincial legislation changed.
“We have no objection to paying our fair share for the water that we draw in Hope, but we believe that everybody should pay their fair share – all companies, municipalities, power authorities and large private concerns,” said John B. Challinor, director of corporate affairs for Nestlé Waters Canada.
Even though the company is not required to measure and report their water usage in Hope, it has been voluntarily reporting to the District of Hope since establishing operations in the community 13 years ago. They also produce a public annual report detailing water quality and quantity.
“We need to know how much water we’re drawing and we need to understand if there are any impacts created by our business on the aquifer,” said Challinor.
“Today we draw less than one per cent of the water that is available to be drawn from that sub-watershed,” “We’re investing millions of dollars in that plant every year. It would be fool-hearty to jeopardize our water resource there and be shut down. We have to manage it for sustainability.”
Challinor said he’s not aware of water management practices being a concern for local residents. However, he admits there have been some complaints about truck traffic on Othello Road, mostly relating to trucks stopping, drivers littering, and trucks speeding. Nestlé Waters Canada has worked with the district to put up signage and warned truck companies about unacceptable behaviour.
“We police it and we’ve gotten rid of drivers and truck companies that failed to obey these requirements,” said Challinor. “We are the biggest employer in the community and we pay a lot of taxes. But we also have a responsibility to our neighbours.”