You are hereDeluge of bottled-water licence applications rings alarm bells

Deluge of bottled-water licence applications rings alarm bells


By Larry Pynn and Judith Lavoie, Vancouver Sun, February 9, 2011

For years, bottled-water companies have been quietly obtaining Crown licences to exploit dozens of remote and little-known water sources all over B.C., with soothing names like Longcool Spring and Garden Spring.

Well, not any more.

Environmental groups are sounding the alarm over a deluge of connected applications to extract water for bottling -from at least 40 streams around four remote inlets on the B.C. central coast -and are seeking a full provincial environmental assessment to determine the cumulative impacts.

In response, Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson said in an interview Tuesday that the applications are too small to warrant a fullblown environmental assessment, but he promised that cumulative impacts would be considered.

He said the proponents are required to submit environmental impact assessments that include stream flow and other hydrological details.

"Only after careful consideration and review will a decision be made," said Thomson, noting bulk exports of water are prohibited by the Water Protection Act.

The applications envisage taking about 112,000 litres a day from each of the streams. The water would then be barged to Vancouver and bottled.

Although three numbered companies and two first nations -the Kwiakah First Nation of Campbell River and Da'naxda'xw Awaetlala of Alert Bay -are named on the applications, the common thread is William Chornobay of Langley, who could not be reached Tuesday.

"They are all part of a single scheme," said Arthur Caldicott, an energy analyst and writer who has researched the applications for the publication Watershed Sentinel.

"It's a unique phenomenon. We've never seen anything like it before, even during the boom in bottled water in 2007.... We have no idea how these are being assessed by government."

Elizabeth Griswold, executive director of the Canadian Bottled Water Association, said "90 per cent of bottled water comes from protected underground springs, and eight to nine per cent is from municipal sources that have been further processed [filter, reverse osmosis, carbon and disinfection].

"Using streams as a source is not a common practice, and not one that is recommended."

Stuart McLaughlin, president of Grouse Mountain Resorts Ltd., in 2005 purchased Whistler Water, which obtains water from Spetch Creek, north of Whistler near the community of Birken. The water is pumped from a well into stainlesssteel tankers, then transported to Burnaby to be bottled.

"Our source is a glacial-fed aquifer in the Coast Mountains," said Whistler Water spokesman Chris Dagenais. "We have a long-term Crown lease, but we're not a large player in the industry."

The licence is for almost 1,000 cubic metres of water per day. About 75 per cent of the company's product is consumed in B.C.; the rest is exported to Japan, Taiwan, and Korea.

According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in 2006, bottled-water volume rose by 13 per cent to 21.5 million hectolitres (one hectolitre equals 100 litres) compared to a record gain of 18.1 per cent from the previous year.

In 2006 Ontario led in regional sales (48.2 per cent) followed by Quebec (24 per cent), B.C. (11.3 per cent), the Prairies (9.8 per cent), and Atlantic Canada (6.8 per cent).

From 1998 to 2006, annual percapita consumption of bottled water increased to 66 litres from 28.4 litres, with an increase of 12.2 per cent from 2005-06.

Despite gains in consumption in recent years, Canada does not rank in the top 15 countries leading bottled-water consumption, but continues to make gains against carbonated soft drinks, its major beverage competitor.

Ottawa says the Canadian bottledwater industry has approximately 65 bottlers. The majority of bottling plants are located in Ontario, Quebec, B.C., with some plants also located in Atlantic Canada and the Prairies.

lpynn@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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