V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
Bottled water comes at hefty price

Published in the Toronto Sun and Sun Media family,  July, 2007

Part 2 in a 5-day series

GUELPH, Ont. — Don Balanoff Sr.’s 86 years of life have been punctuated by water wars.

When he was in his late teens, Balanoff fought the enemy on treacherous seas during World War II. Water was indeed everywhere but, as the saying goes, not a drop was there to drink or spare.

Officers were told to use their ration of water — one gallon a day — sparingly, he said.

Lessons were learned the hard way. After storing his ration in his locker, he would return to find it empty.

“You only drank when you were thirsty. The rest of it you horde. You put a lock on it in case your buddies got to it.” Balanoff has an intimate connection to water, never having forgotten its value on the high seas.

“Lifejackets and water were the most important, precious items you could have with you,” he said outside his rural Ontario home — the unexpected site of another battleground over water.

About 60 years later, in the twilight of his life, Balanoff Sr. is engaged in a new water war.

Nestle pumps millions of litres of water from the Aberfoyle and Hillsburgh areas. One of the test wells for a planned back-up site, which would sit 500 metres from Balanoff’s property, has the family worried about their own well and backyard wetlands.

Wetlands are important because they act as kidneys, filtering out contaminants before they reach the water.

Meanwhile, Nestle Canada’s president Gail Cosman maintains that should any impacts be observed, testing would “stop right away.”

“There’s no reason for me to go one step further if it’s not sustainable ... because it won’t help my business,” she said.

Residents fear that overpumping from the area will lead to a reversal of creek flows and kill fish.

“What annoys me is how Nestle has the authority to take a commodity that everyone needs,” Balanoff said. “Water belongs to all of us. Why should one company have the authority to take what they want?”

When Nestle applied to renew their water-taking permit last year, community residents galvanized and formed the Wellington Water Watchers. It’s a David and Goliath battle, a corporate billion-dollar giant against a small army of local residents opposed to both the principle of bottling water — what they say is a public commons — and the environmental impacts of water pumping and what they call overall short-sightedness.

Ontario’s Places to Grow act identifies Guelph as one of the areas the province hopes to expand, points out Mike Nagy, spokesman for the group. But last summer the city experienced record water bans and continues to be water-stressed.

“During drought periods, when everyone else has to reduce their water-takings, we want to see severe cuts on water-taking permits because if the regular Joe has to cut back and can be fined, why do large industries, the biggest takers, not required by law?” Nagy asked.

But during the low-flow months of the summer and fall, Nestle said they voluntarily reduced their water-taking by up to 20% in the area.

In April, Nestle’s application for a five-year renewal at the Aberfoyle plant was shortened to two years and the company was ordered to monitor the impact of its water-taking. The permit allows them to withdraw 3.6 million litres of water daily.

“The ministry of environment would not have renewed our permit on the area if there were any negative impacts,” she said, noting they are not the largest pumpers in the area.

“No one understands exactly where aquifers touch and how they’re interconnected,” Nagy said. “We need to know how many straws are in the same glass, how big that glass is, and how they’re connected.”

Until then, permits should be put on hold, he said.

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