One of BC’s loudest activist campaigns over the past couple of years has been the fight against Nestlé’s water bottling plant in Hope, BC. Organizations battling against the company’s operations have complained that Nestlé was “tapping the water for free” in a “multi-million dollar giveaway” that’s “removing the water from the watershed” that could “suck Hope dry”. More recently, activists have been using BC’s regional water shortages to add fuel to the fire.
The “outrage” has received wide attention. Local BC media has been all over the story, there’s been some national coverage, and it was even covered by Russia Today– Putin’s propaganda channel that’s taken a special interest in attacking Nestlé. It would be hard to find a Canadian environmentalist’s Facebook stream without a link to one of the stories.
But there’s one minor problem, well perhaps a big problem, the activist’s claims are horribly misleading. More importantly
, the solution they’ve called for has the potential to damage Canadian sovereignty. Adding insult to injury, BC home buyers have been unwittingly paying for the campaign…
The Truth About Nestlé’s Water:
Nestlé draws its water from the KawKawa Lake sub-watershed, an aquifer from which they take less than 1% of the output. Most people (myself included until just recently) assume that aquifer’s are a limited resource, that it’s possible to “suck them dry”. But according to an incredibly informative article by Langley, BC based biologist Blair King, this isn’t true in the case of the KawKawa Lake sub-watershed.
King explains that there are two types of aquifers- confined, and unconfined. Confined aquifers are indeed a limited resource, and can take “generations” to refill. Unconfined aquifers are much different, when water is withdrawn from them it’s almost immediately replenished. The KawKawa Lake sub-watershed is an unconfined aquifer that King explains is “is hydraulically connected to the lake”.
King goes on to explain how little of an impact Nestlé’s operation have on the local water supply saying:
“Nestlé draws less than 7/10th of one percent of the available water in the sub-watershed. That is a rounding error even in the driest of years. As described in their documentation, Nestlé has been operating for 15 years at this location and they have seen no effects on Kawkawa Lake. Rather excess water from the lake continues to flow into Sucker Creek and from that into the Coquihalla River and ultimately the Fraser River.”
So, basically, if Nestlé wasn’t drawing the water from the aquifer it would instead run into the Pacific ocean. As we all know, at this point the water is no longer fresh, and of no use to anyone (the Pacific has more than enough water).
Debunking Complaints About Nestlé’s Costs:
The campaign against Nestlé was started in 2013 by an NGO called the Waterwealth Project, a group that was previously covered on this website for their part in last year’s protests against Burnaby Mountain. Waterwealth’s campaign director Ian Stephen has complained that the province charges Nestlé and “appallingly low” rate of $2.25 per million litres.
Activists and politicians have latched onto the issue of the cost of the water as part of a campaign to embarrass premier Christy Clark for “giving away” the water. The above tweet is a good example of the kind of misinformation that’s being spread- the comparison of home water rates is in no way apples-to-apples with Nestlé’s situation. The costs on one’s water bills are related to delivering and processing water, the cost of the water itself is negligible.
Stephen complained that Nestlé pays a fraction of what they’d pay for their water if they were located in Nova Scotia where’d they’d pay $140 per million litres. It sounds like a significant difference when one compares BC’s rate to Nova Scotia’s, but the reality is actually quite negligible. Nestlé draws 265 million litres a year paying $596.25, if they were in NS they’d be paying $37,100- the difference is a rounding error in the provincial budget.
But there’s a bigger problem at hand. Technically, the province doesn’t sell the water to Nestlé, nor to any other user- the province charges a “rental” fee. There’s a good reason for this, if the province was to start charging for water it would subject water to the NAFTA treaty- enabling the US to push for wide access to Canadian water resources. The result could be that states like California would literally start “sucking BC dry”.
Some Background On The Waterwealth Project:
The Waterwealth Project is a Chilliwack, BC based NGO that describes itself as “a citizen-driven campaign amplifying the voices of local community members who love the waters that sustain their home”. Their explanation of why they’re a non-profit versus being a charity discloses the political nature of their work as a “progressive” organization:
“WaterWealth chose not to register as a charitable organization to avoid opening ourselves to political interference through that status, e.g. the Canadian Revenue Agency audits of progressive charitable organizations in recent years”
Waterwealth is led by Sheila Muxlow, a Fraser Valley native who moved back to the area to start the NGO. Muxlow is part of an elite group of NDP affiliated activists who have marked themselves with the same tattoo saying “Love Is The Movement”, she was previously a director with the Sierra Club Prairie Chapter (an organization that was once led by fellow tattoo wearer and rabid anti-police campaigner Chelsea Flook), and was a previous employee of the Council of Canadians- an organization that’s openly advocated for violence, and enabled Black Bloc violence at the 2010 Olympics.
Muxlow has also been a supporter of the Unist’ot’en Camp, an anarchist led group occupying Crown land that threatens violence and “equipment confiscation” (theft) against “unauthorized” people who dare to enter “their” land. In July, 2010 Muxlow participated in a Smithers, BC march for the Unist’ot’en Camp with fellow tattoo wearers Chelsea Flook, Dave Vasey, and Clayton Thomas-Muller- she reported on the march in the Vancouver Media Co-Op, an anarchist publication that openly promotes Black Bloc violence. Last year information came to light that the RCMP were tracking this event over concerns about their extremism.
Muxlow was one of the media contacts for activist’s attempt to “resist” and interfere with the Spirit Train for the 2010 Olympics. Other contacts included Clayton Thomas-Muller (a man closely tracked by the RCMP), and Macdonald Stainsby- a rabid anti-capitalist professional protester who threw a cream pie in the face of NDP MLA David Eby after he criticised the Black Bloc during the Olympics (Eby was close to Black Bloc organizers, he withdrew his “legal observers” shortly before the violence, it’s this website’s opinion the pie throwing was done to distance him).
Waterwealth lists three primary funding sources for their work; Mountain Equipment Co-Op, the Vancouver Foundation, and the Real Estate Foundation of BC.
Some Background On The Real Estate Foundation of BC:
The Real Estate Foundation of BC was established in 1985, mandated by the BC government in the 2004 Real Estate Services Act. The act states that all interest raised for money put into escrow for real estate transactions should be transferred to the REFBC. The money is to be used:
“to undertake and carry out real estate public and professional education, real estate law reform, real estate research and other projects intended for the public or professional good in relation to real estate activities”.
Waterwealth’s website boasts they were funded by the REFBC, but until today the foundation’s website made no mention of this. I contacted the REFBC’s communications coordinator Megan Simm, she apologized for the information not being posted on their website and confirmed they gave a grant to Waterwealth saying:
“The grant to the WaterWealth Project Society was for $19,500 in 2013, for community engagement of residents of the lower Fraser Valley around water issues via “story mapping” and to develop a research paper around new approaches to freshwater governance.”
Considering the misinformation Waterwealth has been spreading, they mapped one hell of a story! But, considering the REFBC’s mandate to “carry out real estate public and professional education, real estate law reform, real estate research”, it’s a bit confusing to see them funding Waterwealth’s “campaigning”. How could they possibly justify disbursing provincially mandated funds to a political organization?
When asked this question, Simm responded saying:
“You’ll see that we do not support political lobbying under “exclusions”. Our funding is directed to specific projects – and usually a specified part of that project.”
Unfortunately, this conflicts with the REFBC’s recent activities. In March, the REFBC released a study with Clean Energy Canada promoting the “economic benefits” of a “yes” vote in Vancouver’s recent transit referendum. Three weeks ago REFBC’s CEO Jack Wong wrote a letter to premier Christy Clark asking her to support mayor Gregor Robertson’s transit funding plan.
Wong’s letter referenced a grant REFBC gave to Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue to study transportation, an organization led in-part by Gregor Robertson’s Greenest City program champion Shauna Sylvester. REFBC also funded Sylvester’s organization Carbon Talks, a group that recently featured David Suzuki’s grandson Tamo Campos at one of their speeches- a hands-on supporter of the Unist’ot’en Camp who has also been of close interest to the RCMP.
Looking closely at the list of REFBC issued grants, it becomes apparent that a large chunk of them appear to deviate from their mandate in the Real Estate Service Act. Their list of grantees has an eerie similiarity to initiatives pushed by Robertson’s Vision Vancouver and the NDP. The list includes at least four charities being audited by the Canada Revenue Agency for their political lobbying activities:
- TIDES Canada
- West Coast Environmental Law
- David Suzuki Foundation
Outside of these allegedly politically motivated organizations, many of the REFBC’s other grants appear to suffer from scope creep from the group’s provincial mandate. Food security, feeding the homeless, and First Nations issues are all good causes- but it’s hard to see how they’re related to real estate. More importantly, of course, is the fact they should be more careful not to fund misinformation campaigns…
This is investigating journalism at its very finest! Congrats Greg
Thank you! :)
Water, like air, is a human right and anyone has the right to use it as they see fit.
That’s an excellent comment. I shall exercise my right to use it as I see fit by pouring gasoline and rat poison into the creek near to where I live beginning tomorrow.