The majority of comments on the proposed guidance document generally supported the new requirements for bottled water Permit renewals.
A number of comments received did however encourage additional measures and noted that the proposed requirements may not adequately protect groundwater sources. Other comments were not supportive of stricter requirements and noted that the current technical requirements are sufficient to scientifically evaluate a water taking. A small number of comments also noted that the implementation of stricter requirements for the bottled water industry is not justified given the small percentage of bottled water takings compared to all water taken in Ontario.
Some comments were related to broader policy changes (i.e., bottled water moratorium and water charges).
A number of comments recommended that the new requirements should apply more broadly to other water takers. There were a number of comments and concerns specific to particular sections of the guidance document.
Procedural Requirements: Summary of Comments
Some comments recommended that the mandatory pre-application technical discussion with the ministry should take place as early as possible, for example, 6-12 months prior to submission.
Mandatory Indigenous Notification and Consultation
Comments received identified that engagement and consultation with Indigenous communities should include Treaty territory (not just active land claims), reserves and traditional territory. It was also indicated that if mandatory pre-submission notification is required, that mandatory pre-engagement with Indigenous communities should also be required. A number of comments were also received suggesting that the ministry should be responsible for leading the Indigenous consultation process.
Mandatory Public Notification and Consultation
Comments were received that asked for the public commenting period to be extended beyond a minimum of 60 days, to allow additional time for communities and organizations to meet and provide meaningful comments.
Mandatory Public Reporting/Public Website
A number of comments received indicated that the ministry (not the proponent) should be responsible for hosting a website to house the water taking, monitoring and reporting data. Comments received expressed concerns with technical reports and monitoring data being posted publicly. There were both proprietary concerns identified with the public release of this information as well as concerns that the technical information may be misinterpreted or misconstrued.
Mandatory Reductions in Times of Drought
Many comments were received regarding mandatory decreases in water taking during drought conditions. Overall, many comments supported reductions during drought. Some comments suggested that more stringent drought reductions were required or that all water taking should be banned during drought conditions. Comments also indicated that the drought reductions should be site-specific. A number of comments also expressed concerns that the drought reductions are based on precipitation and streamflow (i.e., surface water) and not on groundwater indicators. It was also offered that the drought reductions should be based on the permitted maximum taking and not the daily average taking, to allow for seasonal water bottling demands to be met.
In general, the majority of comments supported a permit length of a maximum of 5 year term (reduced from the current 10 year maximum). . This shorter permit term allows for more regular review by the community and for updated science to be incorporated. Some comments received mentioned that there should be rationale for when a permit would be issued for less than 5 years. It was also mentioned that the issuance of a permit for 1 to 2 years is impractical, as currently it can take up to 2 years to complete all aspects required for a renewal. Other comments noted that permits should be issued for a period between 3 to 5 years to acknowledge the time required to proceed with renewals.
New Stringent Permit Conditions for Bottled Water
The majority of the comments regarding the new stringent permit conditions addressed the mandatory reductions in time of drought (see above for comments). Other comments noted that some of the conditions listed are not new and that they exist on current Permit instruments.
Category Three Fees
Overall an increased renewal fee of $3000, up from $750 (when no study is required) was supported. A number of comments received suggested that increased permit fees should apply more broadly to other water takers and sectors. It was also indicated that a new category with an increased fee should be created for bottled water and other commercial and/or consumptive takings. Other comments received suggested a tiered approach to application fees, where a threshold is set based on the requested water taking volumes.
Technical Requirements: Summary of Comments
There were a number of comments received that were specific to the new technical requirements and to the details outlined in the proposed new hydrogeological study that would be required for all bottled water submissions. The comments were primarily focused on the proposed cumulative effects assessment. Some comments expressed that the cumulative effects assessment was vague and that further clarification on the assessment is required. Some comments noted that the ministry should be responsible for doing the cumulative effects assessment and suggested that the ministry has more access to the tools required to assess cumulative effects. A number of comments were received regarding water budgets; there were concerns that the water budgets primarily assess the sustainability of the municipal system rather than the sustainability of the aquifer. It was also noted that existing takers have already been captured in the water budget and that there is no need for the model to be re-run. Other comments expressed proprietary concerns with the release and access to the data. Overall, there were concerns with using the water budget models and the potential for model manipulation. Regarding models, some comments indicated that prominence should be given to modeling as the core tool for assessment. Other comments indicated that site-specific studies would be better suited to assess cumulative effects.
A number of comments on the guidance document recommended that the ministry ensure peer feedback and recommendations are provided by professional associations and/or academic experts. Some associations expressed interest in being involved in these discussions.
Summary of changes
All comments received during the Environmental Registry posting that pertained to the document, were considered in the development of the final bottled water guidance document. As a result of the comments received, the guidance document has been amended. Amendments include:
- Extended public comment period: An extended public commenting period on the Environmental Bill of Rights, from the proposed minimum 60 day commenting period (currently 30 day commenting period) to a minimum 90 day commenting period. Clarifying an Indigenous consultation protocol that outlines the proponent’s consultation responsibilities, including assessing if Aboriginal and/or Treaty rights may be adversely impacted. A consultation plan will be developed and reviewed by the ministry, the ministry will play an oversight role for the consultation that it delegates to proponents.
- Early discussions: A recommended pre-submission discussion with the ministry 6 months prior to submission. Consistent with the current practice, the application must be received a minimum of 90 days prior to permit expiry date.
- A clarification of procedural and technical requirements, as a result some requirements have been moved in the document (i.e., climate change, drought and low water conditions).
- A high level description of the review process.
- The purpose of the document was amended to clarify that this document is intended to provide guidance for renewal applications of existing permits that authorize the taking of groundwater for the purpose of producing bottled water. Proposals to increase water taking are not permitted.
- A preface was also added to the document that explains the provisions of Ontario Regulation 463/16 (Taking Groundwater to Produce Bottled Water). As a result of these changes all reference to new or increased takings and pumping tests have been removed from this guidance document, as the activities are prohibited by Ontario Regulation 463/16.
- An interim cumulative effects assessment that employs a screening process to identify the potential for water quantity stress from the taking. Unless otherwise instructed, the cumulative effects assessment shall use information obtained through watershed water budget evaluations completed under the Clean Water Act, 2006. The highest tier of water budget completed for the location should be used to evaluate the potential for cumulative effects. The proponent shall conduct an assessment to determine whether the proposed taking is in a low, moderate, or significant stress area. If the proposed taking is in a moderate or significant stress area, the proponent shall determine and discuss the extent of cumulative effects anticipated. If the required water budget information is not readily available, the ministry will assist the applicant in obtaining the information. Where a water budget of any tier has not been completed, the applicant will need to conduct their own analysis.
- A clarification that any application needs to take into account current and future municipal water demands.