Nestlé's bottled water takings, the privatization of water infrastructure and access to clean affordable water impact Great Lakes communities and Indigenous rights. Residents, Indigenous representatives, and water groups came together in Flint, Michigan last September to oppose the commodification and privatization of water and unsettle water sovereignty.
“There is a fish in me,” claimed the poet Carl Sandburg. John Muir said: “Rivers flow not past, but through us." Overly poetic? How about this: “We exist to advance the sources of creation and creativity. Refresh your mind and restore your body. Life. Water. Inspiration.” This message adorns a water bottle – “LIFE WTR” – bottled by PepsiCo and sold for $2 per liter. What runs through us if not “life water”? Our brains and hearts are 75% water. Water isn’t a luxury item. We can survive for only 3-5 days without water. Don’t try this at home.
Great Lakes Commons co-hosted a Water Summit in Flint this fall as part of a union of water organizations challenging Nestlé on its water bottling and calling an end the tap water crises in Flint, Detroit, and Indigenous nations. GLC hosted a workshop called "The Colonial Enclosure of Water" in the Great Lakes that showed several examples of how to re-centre Indigenous claims, perspectives, and rules for water governance.
A Great Lakes Commons understands water as a source of life, not just as a resource. It also questions popular claims about who owns water and the decision-making processes for how water is used. Let's look at one of the best examples of an anti-commons: bottled water. There are currently hundreds of permits to take freshwater in the Great Lakes bioregion for the sole purpose of packaging it up and selling it for massive corporate profits -- such as 700 million dollars for Nestle in 2014.
Water takings have been occurring for over 100 years, with the first bottling permit established in 1912. In recent decades a surge in demand has allowed for an expansion in commercial water extractions throughout Canada – specifically centered in Southern Ontario and British Columbia.
Alongside this surge, the amount of water taken daily has also increased to a staggering rate at multiple plants; i.e. in 2011 Nestle applied for a permit to take 3.6 million litres per day for bottling purposes. This is nearly the size of 1.5 olympic-sized swimming pools of water being extracted everyday.
Wellington Water Watchers, Ecojustice and the Council of Canadians are celebrating Nestlé Canada Inc.’s move to back down from a bottled water fight after the groups challenged Nestlé on its attempt to have drought restrictions dropped from one of its water takings in Ontario.