Last fall, the bottled water industry in Ontario came under fire, in part because of the outrageously low fees they pay to extract the province’s groundwater. Thousands of people spoke out, telling the province to fix the system and raise the rates.
This week, the Ontario government announced its proposal to increase water-taking fees for water bottlers from $3.71 per million litres to $503.71 per million litres. The new fee will be the highest water-taking fee in Canada, and will allow the government to recover the costs of ongoing monitoring, science, administration, and provincial oversight — the basic science needs to ensure that the province’s groundwater is managed sustainably. Right now, Ontario recovers only a fraction of the costs associated with its water quantity management programs.
It should be noted that the province isn’t making a profit off the water. And this is a good thing. Water is a public good, and if the province treated water as a commodity, international trade agreements like NAFTA could make it hard to turn off the tap in the future.
However, while the proposed fee increase is a good start, it’s not a cure-all for our water woes. More still needs to be done. Ontario needs to create a framework that ensures communities’ access to clean drinking water is protected, and that the province gives priority to beneficial uses like agriculture over consumptive and unnecessary uses like water bottling.
The province also needs to deal with the plastic bottles themselves. A recent study found that more than 10,000 metric tonnes of plastic end up in the Great Lakes every year. One significant source of this pollution is single-use plastic bottles – like water bottles. In Ontario, more than a billion bottles end up in landfills or littered in the environment annually. A proven way to solve this problem is by putting a deposit on the bottles similar to what we have for beer and liquor bottles. Ontario is one of only two provinces without a deposit return for plastic bottles, and as a result has the lowest recycling rate of all. It’s time for Ontario to catch up to the rest of the country.
Finally, in all but a few cases, bottled water is totally unnecessary in Ontario. The province has some of the cleanest and safest tap water in the world — a privilege Ontarians should embrace, celebrate, and protect.
Get involved! Ontario is asking for the public to comment on the proposed new fee, but there are other ways to take action:
- Tell Ontario to fix its bottled water problem, and put a deposit on single-use beverage containers.
- Take back the tap. Choosing to use a refillable bottle instead of buying pricey and polluting bottled water can significantly reduce your plastic footprint, and reduce demand for bottled water.