Free water? How come I have to pay?

by mmoher on November 25, 2016 - 11:01pm

Every month you open that water bill you’ve been dreading and are stunned by the amount you have to pay. What if I told you large corporations and industries are pulling trillions of litres of fresh water from Ontario’s watershed for free. CBC’s John Lancaster and Jennifer Fowler reported in 2015 that most water users including agriculture, municipalities, the sand and gravel industry as well as golf courses are not paying a single dime for water.

Water is not only a necessity to humans but for ecosystems too. The article further explains that ecosystems are heavily stressed due to the low water levels from exploitation. These low water levels continue to be depleted due to the growing population, increased demand, development and climate change. The worst part of it all is that 500 trillion litres of fresh water are taken from Ontario’s rivers, aquifers and lakes every year, which is then bottled and sold back to us at an outrageous cost. The frustrating part of it all is that companies are making millions of dollars because they can remove as much water as they please and do not have to pay for extraction. If this keeps up, it is just a matter of time before all the marine life is gone and we are left out to dry. Yes, that pun was intended.

One thing is for certain and that is the government needs to act now. The government needs to start preserving the freshwater before it is too late. In this case, the government should implement substantive policy instruments, specifically economic instruments to control the management of fresh water. With that said, the government should impose a water tax of a sufficient monetary amount in order to change the behaviour of the water users. This would encourage companies to limit their water extraction or they risk being fined. These companies have been getting off the hook for quite some time, as far back as 2006! So it is the time that they pay for the damage they have done, literally!

Money is not the only problem when it comes to the mismanagement of water, conflict comes with it. In this case, there are conflicting ideas of how the water should be used. Each party involved holds a different value on water. On one hand, you have the people who are fighting to save the water, like Ellen Schwartzel, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. Schwartzel wants the water to be conserved because ecosystems are at risk and fears overexploitation. Then you have the selfish party involved, like the water industry and companies. They will do whatever it takes to make a profit by any means necessary, even if it means putting the environment at risk. This conflict can be resolved by the government. They need to step in and take control of the water management so this natural resource is protected.

It is saddening to know that an essential natural resource is quickly depleting and soon enough it will be gone. I truly hope that the government steps in sooner rather than later before this is a problem that we cannot correct. Water extraction will continue to happen whether we like it or not, but policies should be imposed to use the water in a smart manner and to allow for regeneration. This has the potential to reduce conflicts because both parties can get what they want to some degree – protection of watersheds and revenue.


Lancaster, J. and Fowler, J. (2015). Ontario mismanaging its water, environmental commissioner says. Retrieved 22 November 2016 from:


Hi there!
Your title really caught my eye, as well as the first few sentences, in which you mentioned that many big users of water were not paying for it at all. I think that this is a very important topic, especially in this area of Southern Ontario. There has been significant media attention recently over Nestle taking water from wells around Guelph and how little they pay for the amount of water that they take out of the ground. They pay about $3 for every million litres of water that they take out of aquifers. When you think that they sell a 250 mL bottle of water for about $1, they are making a massive profit. They are paying almost nothing to take out our water that we would otherwise be paying for, that is such a precious resource, as you discussed in your post. So I certainly agree with you that economic instruments need to be in place to control the companies taking water. The government of Ontario recently proposed a moratorium to ban all new bottling operations, but not existing ones and they also did not discuss increasing the price that companies have to pay to take the fresh water. I think your post might be improved if you discussed this moratorium and the controversy over the lack of discussion about a price increase for water companies. I've attached a link to an article about this topic. What really drew me into your post was the sentence: "most water users including agriculture, municipalities, the sand and gravel industry as well as golf courses are not paying a single dime for water". I was very curious about how this could be and was hoping to learn more from your post but I didn't find there to be much discussion about the situation in which these activities can avoid paying for water. I think your post would also be improved if you were to discuss this in more detail. Overall though I thought your post was very interesting and thought-provoking! It was very readable and made me laugh a couple times too! Thanks for the post!

Hi I was brought in by your post because of the whole Nestle controversy happening here in Guelph. I'm glad that you decided to write on something that was close to home. But I have a few problems with it.

First I think you misunderstood what free meant in the article. It didn't mean free but very low it would seem. I know for a fact Nestle pays $3.71 per million liters that they take. (You can see the CBC article below.) Organizations also pay for a permit if they remove 50,000 litres of water from the environment a day. So yes companies do pay but it doesn't seem like enough compared to residents monthly bills. But what people also don't seem to notice is that residents are paying for the infrastructure to bring the water straight to their taps. There is a lot of power, monitoring, treating and money that goes into that (I'm not sure how much but can only imagine it being a lot). Nestle for example does all that under their own expenses whether or not they are more efficient at it doesn't matter. Nestle has to truck water from the watershed to bring to their bottling facility, which is then treated and bottled. See the wellington water watchers webpage.

I am no supporter or Nestle in any way. I think bottled water is ridiculous if you have treated tap available to you. But I think it's always to get a view from both sides of things. The fact that Nestle makes a huge profit from our environment is the same from basically any other organization getting gains from the environment. But as always its need to done sustainable. Something I have been trying to find for a while is raw data on the Aberfoyle aquifer to figure out if levels are dropping or staying level in response to only Nestle removal efforts. But all I find is broken links on Nestle's webpage... pretty annoying. Nestle also is not the only one taking huge amounts of water from the Grand River watershed. One of my prof showed me a pie graph of the Grand River watershed uses and apparently Nestle wouldn't even have a mention on it, municipal uses were the highest on that chart. So maybe residents are to blame... ?

I think the government needs to replace its permitting system and increase the price they charge companies to extract water. They also have to do a better job at monitoring because a lot of the time its these companies that do the monitoring for the government itself. The permit should not have one cap of 50,000 liters a day but multiple, so if you take 100,000 liters a day you pay more than if you took 50,000 and increasing from there. I think this is an important issue but I don't need large corporations are the only ones to blame but everyone is to blame. Municipal uses of water are through the roof and residents should be reducing the amount of water they use as well. Instead of taking two 10 minute showers a day take 1 5 minute shower a day.