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SEEING GREEN 024: Public outcry over groundwater extraction brings provincial response

Seeing GreenIn a summer of extreme drought with low water levels everywhere, Ontarians were outraged to learn that a bottled water company was continuing to extract millions of litres of water a day at the incredibly low price of $3.71 per million litres.  In addition, it was inconceivable that at such a rate it could have outbid the community of Middlebrook for access to a well.

Over the past few years residential water bills have been rising rapidly, and municipalities and institutions in Ontario have been banning bottled water on their premises both for the effects on groundwater and for the plastic pollution. Because of this increased sensitivity to water use, the public response was quick and ferocious. Our provincial representatives and officials were inundated with calls and emails from angry citizens.

In response, the province has now come up with a number of proposals to manage and protect groundwater for which the public is being asked to comment.

A two-year moratorium to start in January is being proposed for new or expanded water-taking of groundwater by bottling companies, as well as stricter regulation of existing permits.

The proposed new rules would require greater public transparency and new guidelines. Bottlers applying for renewals will have to post their application on the Environmental Registry for a 60-day public comment period. There will also be mandatory reductions during drought, reduced duration of the renewal period and more research on understanding groundwater as it will be impacted by climate change, development and population growth.

The pricing system is also to be reviewed to better conserve and protect groundwater for future generations.

Environmental groups are urging the province to go further to reduce plastic pollution by imposing a deposit return program, as there is for beer bottles.

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