Opinion Column

Water price absurd as B.C. faces drought

Bill Tieleman

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

A demonstrator holds a sign during a march to protest against Nestle bottling water during the California drought. 
REUTERS

A demonstrator holds a sign during a march to protest against Nestle bottling water during the California drought. REUTERS

“That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.” ― Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman, Nestle, 2005

As British Columbians face increasing water restrictions due to a heat wave, forest fires and drought, the province must answer why it is charging bottled water companies only $2.25 per million litres taken from B.C. sources.

Or why companies using huge amounts of water for hydraulic fracturing - or “fracking” - to extract oil and natural gas pay the same price.

And with Nestle bottling 265 million litres of B.C. water a year for the princely sum of just $596.25, while customers pay $2.25 for each bottle in some places, Brabeck-Letmathe’s controversial comments that water is a “foodstuff” that should have a “market value” deserve more attention.

“Personally, I believe it’s better to give a foodstuff a value so that we’re all aware that it has its price, and then that one should take specific measures for the part of the population that has no access to this water,” Brabeck-Letmathe said in 2005, when he was CEO of Nestle.

Later, Brabeck-Letmathe backtracked after an international firestorm erupted, saying he does “not deny that clean and safe water to drink or for basic hygiene is a human right.”

But even if water should have a “market value,” surely it is far more than B.C.’s pathetically low price. Nova Scotia charges $140 per million litres for many purposes and Quebec bills $70 for bottling water.

And B.C.’s cut-rate fee is charged not only to water bottlers, but also other industrial users, including sewage disposal and garbage dumps.

But lord have mercy on the poor Vancouver homeowner who waters their lawn on the wrong day or time.

The fine for breaking current water restrictions is a whopping $250.

For that kind of money, you could buy 111 million litres of water - but only if you were Nestle or an oil company.

When big businesses can get good, clean B.C. water for $2.25 a million litres while the little guy can’t use a few dozen without risking a fine over 100 times more than that, the government’s logic is clear as mud.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read his blog at http://billtieleman.blogspot.com Email: weststar@telus.net Twitter: @BillTieleman 

Poll

Should bottled water and other businesses pay more than $2.25 per million litres of B.C. water?

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