Groundwater Value Disputed In Canadian Legislative Fight
By Sara Jerome
British Columbia wants to begin charging companies for use of groundwater, igniting a debate about the value of water.
Officials in the Canadian province are considering "The Water Sustainability Act," an update to water regulations that have been in place for over a century. Under existing rules, large-scale users of groundwater are able to draw it "without limit and without cost," the Canadian Press explained.
Under the new legislation, industrial users would have to pony up. They would "pay an annual fee and 85 cents for every 1,000 cubic meters" of groundwater used," the report said.
For instance, "a Nestle Canada plant in Hope, B.C., that bottles an estimated 71 million imperial gallons — 319.5 million litres — of water for sale annually, would pay about $265," according to the article.
But the legislation has been "heavily criticized for its alleged failure to address key sustainability questions about B.C.'s water resources, particularly groundwater," CBC News reported.
In particular, critics say the proposal undervalues groundwater. They point to the large profit bottled water companies make on groundwater extracted from the region.
Spencer Chandra Herbert, a political activist and environment critic, is among these critics.
“What the right price is, I’m not sure. But I do know that people would say it’s insane that a company can make millions selling water bottles and only pay 85 cents,” Herbert said in The Globe And Mail.
Government officials are seeking feedback on this issue, the report noted.
British Columbia Environment Minister Mary Polak explained that the rules seek to set the value of groundwater equal to that of surface water, which is already regulated.
“We’re proposing that water be treated equally, be it surface water or groundwater. We’re proposing that we do that under the current framework of fees and rentals. And that’s one of the things that I’m sure we’ll hear back from British Columbians about,” she said.
An official for Nestle Waters Canada told The Globe & Mail that "the company has always indicated its willingness to pay."
“It’s important for the sustainability of water in B.C. that everybody who draws water pays for it,” he said.
The legislation would subject groundwater users to metering and licensing, CBC said. It would authorize the government to limit industrial groundwater use during droughts.
The bill would provide a new revenue stream for the government. "Overall, the new fees for groundwater are expected to put $5 million annually into the provincial coffers," The Canadian Press said. Surface water generates about $7 million a year.
Climate change had a role in spurring the rules. "The new rules attempt to prepare for the changing weather patterns and increased risk of drought in B.C. brought on by climate change," The Canadian Press reported.
Image credit: "Bottled Water Macros December 02, 20107," © 2010 stevendepolo, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/