BY: MICHAEL LYONS
If you bought a $2.00 bottle of Nestlé water, how much would you expect it to cost to draw that natural Canadian resource?
Under a new rate introduced by British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment, Nestlé would only be paying about one-ten-thousandths of a cent per bottle.
To be fair, the new rate charging Nestlé $2.25 per million litres, plus licensing and fees, is a significant improvement over the previous rate, which didn’t regulate or charge corporations at all.
“Companies will pay little more than a toonie to bottle as much groundwater as can fill a 25-metre swimming pool when new fees take effect in British Columbia next year,” reads a report by the Vancouver Sun made earlier in February.
Many critics think this is a “watered down water act” that puts corporate interest above watershed conservation and public usage.
Changes in the act also affect individual users and farmers, explains the Sun, who will also see their rates climb. Households may see their annual charges for municipal water climb by a dollar or two; while farmers could see their rates climb significantly more.
Meanwhile, corporations like Nestlé will pay disproportionately less for significantly more water. The company was previously mired in controversy when its chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, said in a documentary: “It’s a question of whether we should privatize the normal water supply for the population. And there are two different opinions on the matter. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.” Brabeck-Letmathe said his comments were later taken out of context by the documentary.
“The cruel irony is that the new water legislation is fairly appropriate when it comes to individuals’ water use—but corporations, once again, get off with paying virtually nothing,” says the statement of an online petition asking the B.C. government to redraft the Water Sustainability Act. “If you or I were to bottle enough groundwater to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, we’d pay $180. Nestlé will pay $6.25.”
A further report by The Province notes that NDP environment critic, Spencer Chandra Herbert, charges the change in rates for “gouging individuals, while letting corporations walk away, paying virtually nothing.”
“It just does not make sense that individuals are charged so outrageously more than corporations,” Herbert says.
The B.C. government will charge between two cents and $2.25 for every one-million litres of groundwater.
Critics of the act point out that corporate regulation in drawing on B.C.’s natural resource of clean, drinkable water is a step in the right direction, but is still too lenient on corporations.
The petition, which is currently above 75,000 signatures, says: “This new pricing structure, which was supposed to fix the problem of freeloading corporations, is even more outrageous at a time when many parts of the world are facing extreme water shortage.”
The Director of Coporate Affairs of Nestlé Waters Canada, John Challinor, poses for a photo in Hope, B.C.