One of my favorite reads in The Globe and Mail is the Clarification/Correction column. Newspapers today are far more likely to admit errors, anything from misspelled words to major whoops. A correction yesterday referred to a story that I hadn’t read (another reason to check the clarifications) about the Nestle operation in Aberfoyle, Ont., where they pump drinking water out of the ground and fill plastic bottles.
Aberfoyle is a spit-and-a-holler south of Guelph where I grew up. When I was a boy, Guelph’s water came from the Arkell Springs, about half way between the Royal City and Aberfoyle. At some point, Guelph grew too big (population 25,000 versus today’s 118,000) for such a small water supply and we began drinking water piped all the way from Lake Huron. I left town for university shortly after but tried to keep up with deep well water from Guelph by drinking Sleeman Cream Ale when it first became available in the late 1980s.
The Nestle operation has become controversial because the locals worry that, if the Swiss company takes water from the aquifer, surface water might be affected. The original story said that the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal ruled against a sweetheart deal between Nestle and the Ontario government that would allow the company to continue drawing water during a drought. The Board went further, declaring the case required a full hearing.
Very interesting, but not as riveting as this sentence: “Under Ontario regulations, the company pays only $3.71 for every million litres of water it draws.” Whaaat? Nestle can pump up to 1.13 million litres a day so that means the company can fill more than two million 500 ml bottles of water for a total fee of about $4.20. Why are we giving away a natural resource so cheap? Telcos pay for spectrum, which is invisible. That’s what the current debate between Canadian carriers and Verizon, the U.S. carrier, is all about. In 2008, the Canadian government sold spectrum at auction for more than $4 billion. Alberta will collect $350 billion in oil sands royalties over the next twenty-five years. And Ontario gets about $1,500 a year from Nestle for millions of litres of water!
Doesn’t make much sense, does it? At Nestle, in Aberfoyle, it’s happy hour all year long.