October 25, 2020

Adobe Stock Photo. Banner photo by Michael Durham / Nature Picture Library / Universal Images Group

“The Earth is said to be a woman. She is called Mother Earth because from her come all living things.  Water is her lifeblood. It flows through her, nourishes her, and purifies her.” (Banai, 1988)

Water, the essence of Mother Earth, is in peril. It is necessary to preserve and protect it.  The importance of clean, fresh water is as essential to life as breathing is.

Most bodies of water in Ontario have been so contaminated, to drink from them would be like drinking poison.  Bathing or swimming in these cesspools of bacteria will leave you so insanely itchy, rashes spreading over your body, that you will wish you were dead.

Our earth mother is dying, her lifeblood slowly turning into dangerous venom, like she has been bitten by a very deadly snake.

Indigenous women walk for it, pray for it and recognize the importance of returning to traditional values and ways of living.

 “The Anishinaabe, also known as the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi, are the caretakers of the eastern woodlands and Great Lakes, the largest freshwater system on Earth. Anishinaabe women, as givers-of-life, are responsible for speaking for, protecting and carrying our water.” 

The copper pail that the women use to carry the water holds great significance because of its conductive and antimicrobial nature, explains Kim Wheatley, culture protocol director for Nibi Emosaawdamajig.

“If you take water and place it in copper, it’s going to get cleaned up in a very short time period and sustain that cleanliness level. We as Indigenous people know and have always known about this relationship, so we honour that,” Wheatley said.

“When we carry our copper pots of water, we’re amplifying our prayer, keeping that water clean and returning clean water at the end of the walk back to the source of its origin.”

The first annual Mother Earth Women’s Water Walk took place in April 2003. According to their website, several women from different clans came together to raise awareness that our clean and clear water is being polluted by chemicals, vehicle emissions, motorboats, sewage disposal, agricultural pollution, leaking landfill sites, and residential usage which is taking a toll on our water quality. Water is precious and sacred…it is one of the basic elements needed for all life to exist.

Josephine Mandamin passed away Feb. 22, 2019. Originally from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, and affectionately called Grandmother Water Walker or Grandmother Josephine, she dedicated her life to protecting the water and giving it a voice. She made it her life’s mission to raise consciousness about the fragility of water and emphasize that water is precious, sacred and one of the basic elements required for all life to exist. Water is life.

Nikki Robinson, an Indigenous woman originally from Oneida of the Thames, is perched in her chair, her light-coloured hair piled on top of her head. She talks about her transition from living with pristine, fishable waters in North Bay, to living in the Waterloo Region.  The sounds of a dog lapping water out of its bowl while she discusses water reinforce the subject, water is life.

Her nose crinkled in disgust at the thought of her first experience fishing in the Grand River.

 “When I grew up, we had the cleanest drinking water. So I feel like I was really spoiled because when I moved down this way, it was like you could tell, you could taste the chemicals or whatever they put in it or however they make it drinkable. You can taste all of that and it’s different than it is up north.

 “When I moved down here, I was excited. Like, I love to fish. We’d fish throughout the year in the north.” she said. “ I mean, you knew that if you caught something, that you could actually eat it and you didn’t have to really worry about what it lived in.

“The only water that’s around here is the Grand River. I thought, wow, this is a different experience. River fishing wasn’t anything that I was familiar with. So I was excited to go fishing.”

She was horrified to find out that while there were fish in the Grand River, she was advised over and over not to eat whatever she caught.  The fish and water are contaminated.  This was so completely foreign to her, she couldn’t get her head around it.

Previous United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Toronto Star in 2015, in conjunction with World Water Day, “Clean water has become scarce and will become even scarcer with the onset of climate change.”

Every day, millions of tons of untreated sewage and industrial and agricultural waste are poured into the world’s water systems, and it is the poor who “continue to suffer first and most from pollution, water shortages and the lack of adequate sanitation,” Ki-moon said.

The smell is putrid, overwhelming, so disgusting you feel sick to your stomach.  What should smell clean and fresh, smells like death.  The mere thought of eating any of the swimmers that live in that water is so frightening. If it smells like that, how would it taste? What would it do to your body?

Deborah McGregor associate professor and Canada research chair in Indigenous Environmental Justice, wrote, “People must relate to water in order to live. This is true no matter where you reside, whether in cities, on-reserve, or in rural communities; what you do (your occupation or livelihood); your age; the nature of your relationship to water (good, bad, indifferent); or what your beliefs are about water (whether you view it primarily as a resource, a commodity, a human right, a life-giving substance, or a sentient being). All humanity shares this basic need for survival: at a fundamental level we need water to live.”

The human body is extremely reliant on water, first being in the womb, cocooned in the life-giving waters of your mother.

After you are born, your body continues to be more than 50 per cent of water. According to healthline.com, “the actual average percentages of water in the human body vary by gender, age, and weight.” But one thing is consistent: “Starting at birth, more than half of your body weight is composed of water.”

 Columnist Alyssa Clement wrote in her article for livestrong.com, “Water removes waste from cells, brings nutrients to cells, regulates body temperature and helps you digest food.”  She went on to warn, “When you don’t consume enough water, serious complications can arise. Your hydration needs depend on exercise, diet, age, body fat, altitude, pregnancy, medications, and the weather.” 

According to healthline.com, there are several benefits to drinking water.  They compiled the following list:

7 Science-based health benefits of drinking enough water

  1. Water helps to maximize physical performance
  2. Hydration has a major effect on energy levels and brain function
  3. Drinking water may help to prevent and treat headaches
  4. Drinking more water may help relieve constipation
  5. Drinking water may help treat kidney stones
  6. Water helps prevent hangovers
  7. Drinking more water can help with weight loss

The top five drinking water sources in the province are:

•         Lake Ontario: 6.3 million people

•         Ottawa River: 943,000 people

•         Groundwater spread across the province: 657,000 people

•         Lake Erie, Lake Huron: 366,000 people

•         Detroit River: 284,000 people

How safe is our tap water in municipalities? What do people prefer? A recent Facebook poll asked 70 people in Ontario what their preference was when it came to their drinking water.

Facebook Poll of 70 people

The favourite mode of drinking water was filtered/Brita water.  Some of the comments included why:

Lance Hunter: We boil our water first then when it cools down it goes through the Brita

Hope Engel: I use tap water. And Brita when I remember. I often boil the tap water to make tea or coffee. I’m nervous about our water because it sometimes comes out brown or smells like rotten eggs. They replaced our apartment building water heater which hopefully fixed this but it’s happened enough that I get a bit nervous about tap water now

Kathryn Edgecombe: We have an unsealed dug well. We use this water for everything except drinking and cooking. That water we get from the artisan well at Sulphur Springs Conservation area. We put money in the cash box there to support the upkeep of the well. It also has a UV light.

Gehan AF D Sabry: We drink tap water because apparently it is the one monitored and always analyzed … therefore safer.

Glenda Ducharme:  We have our own well. The water is cold and fresh straight from the tap and always has been. I know we are more fortunate than many, who must depend on a community water source or contaminated water source.

Nestlé Waters is a water-bottling company based in Aberfoyle, Ont. Almost half of all domestic spring water products sold in Canada are produced by Nestlé Waters Canada and almost three-quarters of international water brands sold in Canada are marketed by Nestlé Waters Canada.

The following excerpt from their website debunks many of the questions and concerns people have had over the years.

Nestlé Waters in Ontario: Know the Facts

Q. Nestlé Waters is draining Ontario’s water.        

A. Our water takings are sustainable. We monitor the aquifers on an hourly basis and have been doing so for almost 20 years. We have over 80 monitoring points in Aberfoyle and over 50 in Erin. All of our data is collected and verified by third-party experts and is peer-reviewed by many stakeholders.

According to data compiled by the Grand River Conservation Authority, water bottling in the Grand River Watershed accounts for only 0.6 per cent of the water permitted within the watershed.    

Q. Nestlé Waters pays next to nothing to take water in Ontario.

A. Springwater bottlers in Ontario are the only ones who pay $503.71 per million litres. Nestlé Waters pays the rate set by the provincial government. We do not receive a special rate for water use. While it makes for catchy headlines, we are not taking millions of litres of water for free. We pay $503.71 per million litres of water, in addition to a permitting fee. The rate we pay for water goes towards the Ministry for research and to manage our permits. Nestlé Waters’ Ontario presence results in a total of 1,100 jobs provincewide and more than $241 million in economic activity.      

Q. Nestlé Waters is a global company, and not part of the Wellington County community.        

A. We are a global company with a significant Canadian presence and have been operating in Canada for nearly two decades. Our employees don’t just work with the local community, they ARE the local community.

It is easy to forget, but Nestlé Waters Canada, like any company, is made up of people. Here in Ontario, our employees care about the environment and the well-being of their local communities, just like you do. They live, work and raise their families in the same communities where we operate, and for that reason, they are just as passionate as you are about protecting their neighbours and the natural resources of the area.

We support many community organizations here in the province through donations of products, resources, time and money. Nestlé Waters Canada employees volunteer in the communities where they live and work to support meaningful community projects.  

Q. Nestlé’s CEO believes water is not a human right.

A. We absolutely, unequivocally believe that water is a human right.

Safe, clean drinking water is essential to human life, and we believe that access to it is a fundamental human right.  Everyone should have consistent access to quality water to meet daily hydration, cooking and hygiene needs.

An online video claiming otherwise is over 14 years old and depicts someone who is no longer our CEO. Critics use a video interview that our former Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe gave in 2005 – over 13 years ago – to claim that he thinks all water sources should be privatized. This is simply false. The video is edited by critics to be intentionally misleading in order to advance a false narrative about our company.

Mr. Brabeck’s comments were taken out of context and engineered by critics to create an inaccurate soundbite that would scare and anger viewers.

Nestlé’s current chairman has affirmed that the company believes water is a human right.

As recently as March 2018, Nestlé current chairman of the board Paul Bulcke publicly stated: “At Nestlé, we unequivocally believe that access to water is a basic human right. Everyone, everywhere in the world, has the right to clean, safe water for drinking and sanitation.”

Q. Nestlé Waters is trying to privatize water supplies in Canada. I heard you outbid a town to buy a water source.    

A:. Community water supply needs always come first.

We do not compete with municipalities for water supplies. Ever.

Although it makes for catchy headlines, we did not outbid Centre Wellington for a water source.

In fact, after we found out that the Township was the anonymous counteroffer on the property, we offered to donate the well and property. Although a moratorium on new or expanded water bottling permits is in place, we remain open to working with Centre Wellington and residents to explore opportunities for partnership.

Q. Nestlé Waters is pumping water illegally on expired permits.

A. Our permits and operations in Ontario are completely legal.

Even though our Aberfoyle permit technically expired in July 2016 and Erin in August 2017, under the Government of Ontario’s Water Resources Act we are allowed to operate under the conditions of the current permit until the government makes a decision on the permit renewal applications.

We are working through the permit application process.

In December 2016, the Ontario Government announced several new technical and procedural requirements for water bottlers to complete in their permit renewal applications. We have been working for the past few years to include these new requirements in our permit applications (which include several new scientific evaluations).

Science and data guide everything we do.

We have been conducting extensive monitoring of the groundwater levels and the surrounding ecosystem of our operations for almost 20 years. All of our data shows that our operations do not have any negative impact on the aquifers and there is no evidence of any long-term declining trends.

Q. Nestlé Waters is stealing water from Six Nations of the Grand River – who don’t even have access to clean water.

A. Nestlé Waters Canada has been meeting with the land and resources team, as directed by Chief Ava Hill for more than four years and has developed a positive working relationship.

It is important to note that access to water on First Nations reserves is the responsibility of the Federal Government. More specifically, Six Nations of the Grand River has a large water treatment plant that draws surface water from the Grand River. Unfortunately, they do not have the infrastructure to deliver water to everyone in their community. We will continue to meet with the team at the Land and Resources team and participate in Community Open House and other events on the Six Nations Reserve.

We are looking to create shared value.

We continue to work very diligently on this relationship to identify ways to where Nestlé Waters Canada can have a positive impact on the Six Nations of the Grand River.

♦ ♦ ♦

So, what can be done about it?  What can regular people do to conserve water?  Well, there is the obvious,  fix leaky taps, turn off the water while you brush your teeth and that sort of thing.  Collect rainwater for watering your lawn and gardens.  The most innovative one so far is called the bucket flush. When you have a bath, keep the water in the tub to reuse to flush the toilet.  Keep a regular-sized bucket nearby and use that water to flush the toilet and then refill the tank.

The same bucket can be used to collect the cold water that runs down the drain while warming up for a shower.  That can then be used for the bucket flush or to water your plants.

If a rain barrel can’t be found, (they are pretty scarce and expensive,) you can utilize a regular plastic garbage can.  Drill some holes in the lid, and at the bottom where you can insert a spout.

Another neat trick is to wash your vegetables in a tub or your sink, instead of under running water.  It is recommended that you use bleach, peroxide or vinegar in your wash water anyways so it is more practical to use a tub. 

It cannot be emphasized enough how important water is to humankind. The following excerpt from the Assembly of First Nations Honouring Water page says it all:

Water is the most life-sustaining gift on Mother Earth and is the interconnection among all living beings.  Water sustains us, flows between us, within us, and replenishes us.  Water is the blood of Mother Earth and, as such, cleanses not only herself but all living things.  Water comes in many forms and all are needed for the health of Mother Earth and our health.  The sacred water element teaches us that we can have great strength to transform even the tallest mountain while being soft, pliable and flexible.  Water gives us the spiritual teaching that we too flow into the Great Ocean at the end of our life journey.  Water shapes the land and gives us the great gifts of the rivers, lakes, ice and oceans.  Water is the home of many living things that contribute to the health and well-being of everything not in the water.

Miigwetch. (Thank you)

WATER IS LIFE

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