Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nestle, Aggregates, and Groundwater

Ecology isn't rocket science; it's much more complicated than that. - David Schindler

The Envirothon Team at my school was invited to an excellent set of talks about groundwater yesterday in Puslinch. It wasn't meant to be a debate, but it really could have been. It was rousing nonetheless. I'd put Trout Unlimited and Wellington Water Watchers on one side of the ring, and the OMNR, the Dufferin Aggregates Ltd., and Nestle on the other....

All the speakers were very nice and polite, well, mainly. The Water Watcher made it clear that Nestle had misrepresented some pieces of information, and that was exciting. But I'll get to that later. There were some important points made along the way about the environment and life in general beyond "alluvial deposits, thermal refugia, and frazzle ice."  This is just random ideas and facts I took away from it all.  Skip to the video at the bottom if you prefer.  (warning - there's some swearing in the video)

* What we can see isn't always a good indicator of what's going on.  Sometimes problems are created much further away from the effects.  We have to remember that we can't always see the whole problem we're working with.  Brook trout need a minimum volume of groundwater discharge to survive.  They can be swimming around and laying eggs, but their eggs won't hatch.  That an area looks nice is meaningless when nature is disturbed.  Making an area pretty again doesn't necessarily mean it's healthy or sustainable.  Looks deceive and one bit of disturbance in one area can seem to have no effect but end up having a huge and lasting effect in ways we can't easily perceive.

* We need areas where rainwater falls through plants into the ground instead of running off pavement into storm drains.  If you pave all the recharge areas, like Barrie did, you'll have problems later on that are really hard to fix.  -  I couldn't help thinking of the apartment going up down the street that got permission to ignore set-backs and is building right to the sidewalk.  If we refuse to learn from history, we're doomed to repeat it.  The worst is being a bystander, shouting from the sidelines but not being really heard.

* We need lots of aggregates (sand, gravel, limestone, etc.) to build streets and homes, and we will always need more and more roads and buildings, so the environmental impact has to take a back seat to this necessity; we're running out here .  -  But why do we keep needing more buildings and roads?  It seems to me their must be a time that we're finally finished, that we have enough.  What we need is to find ways to live without subscribing to the myth of the necessity of growth and make that paradigm shift to sustainable living.  We have to reduce our population, reduce growth, and live within our means - not just our bank balance, but our global resources.       

* My industry creates lots of jobs, therefore it's necessary. -   I know we all need to live and eat, but we don't need to have jobs in destructive industries when there are sustainable industries that could employ many if the government saw fit to promote them.  

*  The Harris government dismantled the Ministry of Natural Resources slashing almost 70% of the jobs there.  So significantly fewer people have to take care of the same amount of area.  When things are approved by the MNR, it doesn't always mean it's a good idea.  They just can't check up on every single issue the way they once could.  Yet they still need to find a way to enforce their own laws.

* The Wellington Water Watchers are responsible for giving free, unbottled water to Hillside, something that Ani Difranco commented on when I saw her there.  She wished her city was as progressive!  

* If you go on the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario's website, you can see if someone is asking to do something that might harm the environment.  You only have thirty days to comment and/or mobilize.  The Permit to Take Water (PTTW) system is like writing a cheque without knowing how much is in the account or how many other cheques have been written.  We don't know how much groundwater we have, so we probably shouldn't be giving it away.

* If we're not sure of the effects of our actions, we should take the most cautious position.  Always.

* London banned the sale of water bottles in city buildings, and Ontario took it to the table at least.  By tonnage, water bottles don't take up much space in the landfill, but by volume it's huge. 

* It's ironic that they served pop at an eco-conference and that many of the presenters' handouts were many pages single sided.  We really need to live our philosophies for anyone else to buy into them.     


* Bottled water label "spring water" is the most damaging to the ecosystem because, due to the rules around what's called spring water, they take it from the beginning of the system where it's easier to get at.  The result is this water doesn't run through the area the way it used to.  Something like that. 

Okay, here are some of Nestle's claims.  They didn't say anything I hadn't heard before:  We have the same amount of water as we did 10,000 years ago.  It just keeps on circulating.  We can't run out of water.  Niagara Falls alone is thirty times the volume of water needed by Canada.   Nestle is taking less than is lost by leaky water and sewer infrastructure.  Their rep insisted, "We wouldn't do something if it harmed the ecosystem - we just don't operate that way." 

Here's Maude Barlow's response to the myth of excess water: "The amount of fresh water available in the world is only one-half of one percent of the total world's water stock. And every year that needs to stretch to welcome another 85 million new people into the world. Yet we are depleting, diverting and polluting that finite supply at an astonishing rate.   Today 31 countries are facing water stress and scarcity and over a billion people lack access to clean drinking water. We know that 5 million people, most of them children, die every year from illnesses caused by poor drinking water. If we do not change our ways, by the year 2025, as much as two-thirds of the world will be living in either water scarcity or total water deprivation. This is the major environmental crisis of our time.  Ground water over-pumping and acquifer depletion are now an urgent problem in the world's most intensive agriculture areas. Water is being depleted many, many times faster than nature can replenish it. This means that instead of living on water income we are now living on water capital and we are facing water bankruptcy."

My two cents - taking less than is lost doesn't make it a good thing.  It's still taking something we need.  And we need even more because so much is lost to leaks.  And insisting over and over that you just don't harm the environment doesn't make it so.   And, heads up, a whole lot of the pollution in our water is plastic from plastic bottles.  The Nestle literature says, "Every time a consumer deposits a plastic water bottle in the recycling bin, it reduces his or her carbon footprint by 25%."  Ahh, every time we avoid buying water bottles at all, it reduces our footprints by 100% then?  And if nobody made them anymore, well, just imagine.  


Plastic can't be recycled; it gets downcycled with lots of leftover waste.  And where that waste goes is into the ocean where it gets into the food chain as it's eaten by fish and birds and animals and eventually by us.  We all have bisphenol A in our blood stream from plastic.  The amount of bisphenol A is directly linked to the rate of miscarriage in women.  Plastic is messing with our fertility.  But if you want to buy water in bottles, that's your choice.  It's a free world. 

After the talks we got to play with sticks and dirt which was far more educational than you might imagine.

This video is about the Pacific Gyre where all the plastic from land and sea blows, flows, and settles. There's lots of swearing; they're sailors. The video is part 3 of 3 parts. The first two mainly documents them trying to get there, but they do show the particles of plastics, the beginning bits, that wash up to shore and talk about how to deal with the amount of packaging just on the food they brought for the trip. This part is about 25 minutes long.


"How far can you go from people and not have to be wading through their shit?...If we basically ruined the ocean, what chance do we have with land, or with ourselves for that matter?"

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