Saturday, December 18, 2010

Toronto is heading “Back to the Tap”

Toronto is heading “Back to the Tap”

The Great Lakes Compact made the issue of bottled water more front and center than ever before (at least as I recall in my lifespan), which became the thorn in a good many Great Lakes-lover’s side. Because this legislation did not put the kibosh on bottling and selling Great Lakes water, it left the lakes open to the dangers of our culture – generally over-consumptive, fast-paced, wasteful and at times, unaccountable.
But perhaps we underestimated the power of the local government and grassroots campaigning. In a city the size of Toronto (over 2.5 million residents, the largest city in Canada), it is not an easy feat to overcome very intense lobbying and a number of less-than-enthusiastic citizens to pass a law banning the sale and distribution of bottled water on city premises. But passed it they did earlier this month, and the environmental and social implications and symbolic importance leave many enviro’s and Great Lakes residents slapping hands.
Champions of this legislation were City Councilor Glen De Baeremaeker and Mayor David Miller, supported by “a concerted grassroots push by Ontario-based activists, public interest organizations, community and student groups, labour unions and environmental networks.”
Not only is Toronto banning the sale and distribution of bottled water in the city, but officials also made a promise to reinvest in public drinking water throughout the city, making clean and free water available for not only those with disposable incomes but also for those who can’t afford the $2.00 per bottle of water on a regular basis. This means more water fountains and better tap water.
This is a terrific example of how grassroots and local government can work from the bottom up to make a significant impact on the way things are socially viewed and legislatively allowed. It speaks to the value of meeting top-down legislation like the Great Lakes Compact half way, and of accomplishing goals that are important to the public.
As the author of the article, Tony Clarke writes, “It's becoming clear that the recent love affair with bottled water has reached its limits. Bottled water's 15 minutes are up, the marketing scam is out of the closet and the tap is back.”
Also see Alan Maki's post and subsequent comments on the Community Bulletin entitled "Toronto Stood Up to Bottled Water Industry"

Toronto Stood Up to Bottled Water Industry

By Tony Clarke
December 11, 2008, The Toronto Star
Toronto's decision last week to ban the sale and distribution
of bottled water on city premises was a watershed moment for
water justice advocates the world over. What was truly
significant about Toronto's action was not that it banned an
environmentally destructive product, but that it included a
commitment to ensuring access to tap water in all city
Toronto is now the largest city in the world to pass such
far-reaching regulations controlling the distribution of
bottled water on municipal property and promoting the use of
publicly delivered tap water. Other Canadian and American
municipalities have enacted policies encouraging the
consumption of tap water and limiting the distribution of
bottled water using taxpayer money, but none as large as
Toronto has taken such a comprehensive approach.
Toronto's action is in many ways the result of a diverse
North American public campaign that has successfully raised
awareness about bottled water as an unnecessary and wasteful
product when the majority of people in Canada and the United
States have access to clean drinking water from the tap.
In Canada, this campaign gained significant exposure in early
2005 when the Polaris Institute published Inside the Bottle:
an Exposé of the Bottled Water Industry, which provided an
overview of the 10 key problems with bottled water. Over the
nearly four years since, a popular movement to challenge the
bottled water industry has emerged at an astonishing pace -
as schools and universities, restaurants, hospitals, faith-
based organizations, unions and municipalities have decided
to turn on the tap and kick out the bottle.
As is often the case, Toronto's initiative had its own
elected champions steering it forward. City Councillor Glen
De Baeremaeker and Mayor David Miller had the progressive
vision to include bottled water in their goal of keeping
unnecessary packaging out of city landfills. Their efforts
were coupled with a concerted grassroots push by Ontario-
based activists, public interest organizations, community and
student groups, labour unions and environmental networks.
In the days leading up to the Toronto vote, city councillors
faced a barrage of lobbying from the bottled water industry.
These frantic attempts to defeat the resolution continued
over the two days of debates when the industry brought a
battery of lobbyists, corporate executives and industry
associations into the council chamber to influence the vote.
Representatives from the Canadian Bottled Water Association,
Refreshments Canada and Nestlé Waters, along with their hired
lobbyists from the Sussex Strategy Group and Argyle
Communications, intensively lobbied councillors during the
entire six-hour debate. However, their high-priced strategy
ultimately failed to influence elected officials, who voted
with a two-thirds majority to ban bottled water and reinvest
in the public delivery of drinking water.
For many, Toronto has now become the champion of the "Back to
the Tap" municipal movement in Canada. To date, this movement
has already seen 17 municipalities from five provinces ban
the bottle. With 45 others indicating an interest to follow
suit, Toronto's leadership will no doubt inspire more
municipalities to stand up and speak out in support of public
water. To further enable this municipal movement, Toronto
City Council also passed a motion to circulate its
resolutions and amended staff report to the Federation of
Canadian Municipalities, the Association of Municipalities of
Ontario and the Regional Public Works Commissioners of
Increasingly across Canada, municipal leaders are showing
that there is a strong political will for reinvestments in
public water services. However, access to municipal drinking
water is dwindling with new buildings constructed without
water fountains and older ones decommissioning existing
fountains. Now is the time to issue strong calls to all
levels of government for greater public access to free
potable water and a wholesale reinvestment in water
infrastructure and services
It's becoming clear that the recent love affair with bottled
water has reached its limits. Bottled water's 15 minutes are
up, the marketing scam is out of the closet and the tap is
back. The simple fact is that there is no "green" solution to
bottled water. While it might serve a function during natural
disasters or other contingencies, it is no alternative to the
Toronto has made the right choice to support public water
infrastructure and to increase city residents' access to
clean, convenient and environmentally sound drinking water -
the only question now is which municipality or province will
be next.
Gary Wilson's picture

More on Chicago and Bottled Water

p.s. to previous.
Will any of Chicago's environmental groups -- or better yet, a coalition of them -- take the lead and publicly call for Chicago to follow Toronto's example?
The Great Lakes region is behind the curve on the bottled water issue. California, with an aggressive Attorney General, is standing up to Nestle, as are towns in the Northeast and now Toronto.
Comments welcome from Chicago's environmental leaders. This is an open forum.
Gary Wilson's picture

Toronto on Bottled Water

It will be interesting to see if Mayor Daley of Chicago follows suit.
Daley and Toronto Mayor Miller are close allies on all things Great Lakes via the cities organization which they head. Daley also is on record as wanting Chicago to be the greenest city in the U.S.
Over to you Mayor Daley!
Alan Maki's picture

What if every Great Lakes city were to do this?

I forgot to mention along with my posting this that there is no reason we couldn't take Toronto's action to every city and municipality in the Great Lakes region... this could turn into a very powerful movement in defense of water for people and life not for profit.
Alan L. Maki
58891 County Road 13
Warroad, Minnesota 56763
Phone: 218-386-2432
Blog: h

Great Lakes Protection: Where Do We Go From Here?

Great Lakes Protection: Where Do We Go From Here?

Don Rawlyk: Sunset Sails
Don Rawlyk: Sunset Sails ~Enlarge
I have a confession.  Looking back over this week’s postings I can see that I chose the easy route and focused quite a bit on problems with Rio Tinto’s Eagle Project, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  I have a better understanding of Eagle than I do other projects, such as the northeast Minnesota projects (PolyMet, Duluth Metals, Franconia, Kennecott, etc.) or projects in Ontario.
When I wrote on problems with Michigan’s new metallic mining legislation and the “consensus” process, I should have mentioned a bill that representatives Jim Oberstar (MN) and Amy Klobuchar (US) have attempted to introduceallowing Minnesota to sell over 6,000 acres of public forestland to PolyMet for the controversial NorthMet project.
And I utterly failed in covering, even briefly, mining issues in Ontario.  I hope that someone can pick that up at a later date as theKitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, the Ardoch Algonquin and Shabot Obaadjiwan and Canadian citizens’ struggles to protect their land rights, water quality and local economies are no less compelling and critical than struggles in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Nonetheless, Rio Tinto’s Eagle Project is a good starting point as issues with that mine have quite a bit in common with others.  For instance, Aquila Resources’ Back Forty gold and zinc project is adjacent to the Menominee River (in fact, the ore body goes underneath the river), while PolyMet’s NorthMet project is adjacent to miles of pristine wetlands, Franconia’s Birch Lake Project is directly underneath Birch Lake and Rio Tinto’s is underneath the Salmon Trout River.
Mining issues in the three states seem to contrast somewhat with Canadian mining issues,  primarily due to the incredibly weak mining laws there.
So, where do we go from here?  I certainly don’t have the answers, although I do have some ideas that I can share.
To Do List
In the information and facts department, I am confident that we are on the right path.  Many industry experts, including some who are staunchly “pro-mining”, believe strongly that Rio Tinto’s Eagle Project has a high likelihood of collapsing and that the company’s mine plan is utterly incompetent and, potentially, fraudulent.  Rio Tinto and other mining giants like Cameco (exploring for uranium on public forest land in Michigan) have terrible histories riddled with egregious human rights abuses and extensive environmental damage – histories that Great Lakes citizens cannot ethically tolerate.
At least in Michigan, regulatory agencies have proven to be unwilling and unable to properly scrutinize and enforce new metallic mining projects.  In response to questioning by National Wildlife Federation attorney, Michelle Halley, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) geologist Joe Maki (“mine team” coordinator for review of the Eagle Project application) admitted that the DEQ did not require Rio Tinto to have back-up plans for a mine collapse, aquifer contamination (the Yellow Dog Plains has some of the most sensitive aquifers in the Upper Midwest), wastewater treatment failure, and seemingly any other major problem that could easily happen at a modern mining project.
Maki also admitted that the DEQ ignored a central tenet in Michigan’s new mining law when approving Rio Tinto’s application.  The section that Maki claimed neither he nor the mining team considered:
“The applicant has the burden of establishing that the terms and conditions set forth in the permit application, mining, reclamation and environmental protection plan and environmental assessment will result in a mining operation that reasonably minimizes actual or potential adverse impacts on air, water and other natural resources and meets the requirements of this act.” 
After the state’s suppression of documents critical of the Eagle mine plan, the incompetence shown by the DEQ in approving that plan, and after watching Governor Granholm’s Upper Peninsula director, Matt Johnson, accept a position in “community and governmental relations” for Rio Tinto, I have to wonder what has to occur before the project is finally ditched and Rio Tinto is asked to leave the Great Lakes and take its slick PR and empty promises with them.  Could problems with the state’s lack of oversight and Rio Tinto’s mining plans become more evident?
One thing that I believe has been lacking (at least in Michigan) is the vibrant public involvement witnessed up until a couple of years ago.  Without an active public, elected officials and agency heads have little incentive to make ethical and sound decisions.  It is not enough to be against Rio Tinto’s Upper Peninsula projects or PolyMet’s Minnesota project or Aquila’s Back Forty project.  In order to protect our physical health, the quality of our water and the long-term stability of our economy, individual citizens are going to have to take a more active role.  Don’t just write your officials every month but submit an editorial to your local newspaper every month as well.  Becomeactively involved in your area conservation group that is working to protect our quality of life.  I don’t know of any grassroots citizen group that can’t use volunteers.
In Michigan pressure has to be put on elected officials to, at the very least, reinforce the current nonferrous metallic mining law in order to eliminate loopholes that endanger public health and Great Lakes waters.  Ideally, the public should talk to these same officials and ask why Michigan’s governor claims that the state’s nonferrous metallic mining laws are the strongest in the nation when Wisconsin’s are obviously better.  While you’re on the phone ask the governor’s aide why one of Granholm’s solutions to Michigan’s economic crisis is to permit development of a very un-“green” short-term toxic mining project.  
Green With Envy
Frankly, I’m jealous of Wisconsin.  The day after Wisconsin’s House passed a weakened “moratorium” law, corporate giant Exxon dropped its interest in the massive 55 million ton zinc, copper and lead Crandon deposit and left the state.  That in response to a gutted law that was strengthened at a later date (that law has never been challenged in court).
Located south of Crandon and first discovered by Exxon Minerals the massive project was successfully stalled by citizen opposition since 1976.  After Exxon split town the world’s largest mining company, BHP-Billiton, through its subsidiary Nicolet Minerals, attempted to bypass the moratorium.  The company cited the Sacaton Mine, in Casa Grande, Arizona, the Cullaton Mine in the Nunavut Territory, Canada, and the McLaughlin Mine in Lower Lake, California.
By April, 2003, as the examples proved unable to pass scrutiny under Wisconsin law, a defeated BHP sold Nicolet Minerals and its surface and mineral rights for the project to Northern Wisconsin Resource Group, a subsidiary of Nicolet Hardwood Corp.
On October 28, 2003, the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa and the Forest County Potawatomi Tribes purchased the project and associated lands for pennies on the dollar, ending the 27 year fight between the citizens of Wisconsin and the world’s most powerful mining companies. Two days later, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources received a letter from the company announcing its intention to withdraw its permit applications.
There’s no reason we can’t have a more active public and mining laws that really are protective of our values and quality of life in Michigan, Minnesota and Ontario.  But it won’t happen without significant effort from all of us.
To get involved, please contact any of the grassroots organizations and indigenous groups below that are working on mining issues (keep in mind the list is nowhere near comprehensive) and visit the Lake Superior Mining News (I have no shame!) to keep somewhat current.  For mining issues not limited to the Great Lakes, please visit the incredibly helpful Mines and Communities and London Mining Network websites.
Please visit the various mining company websites, as well, to get a feel for their take on things (also not a comprehensive list):

Concerns from Around the Table

Concerns from Around the Table

Important decisions about Great Lakes governance agreements will be made shortly by governments on behalf of the Great Lakes basin community. These decisions must be guided by a collective vision of the future of the Great Lakes. It is vital that the public be given a forum to publicly engage in discussions in order to shape Ontario?s collective vision of the future of the Great Lakes.
This lack of attention is made even worse by a steadily declining level of monitoring data available to alert the public and decision makers to the ecological conditions and changing stresses in the lakes. No system for monitoring conditions means no alerting of change, means no concern and no interest or engagement of the various governments.
From November 2006 - January 2007, I partnered with Pollution Probe to host a series of public events on the future of the Great Lakes in Kingston, Windsor, Hamilton, Thunder Bay, and Toronto. About 500 Great Lakes stakeholders and citizens in Ontario participated in these roundtables and public forums.
We found that, despite good progress in some areas, there is increasing apprehension (on both sides of border) over the future of the Great Lakes. There are new challenges that need our urgent attention, including invasive species, climate change, and the threat of water withdrawals from the Great Lakes.
Discussions at the roundtables were organized around five themes:
?Water Quality and Ecological Processes;
?Water Levels and Water Use and Consumption;
?Government and Institutional Support;
?Business and Economic Development;
?Community Health and Well-being.
For each of the themes, participants were asked to consider the following questions:
?What threats do you see?
?What concerns do you have?
?What opportunities are there?
?How can we improve the situation?
For the next five days I will talk about results coming out of these proceedings.
Engagement and Education
Many participants in our Great Lakes Roundtables felt that a sense of complacency had set in with respect to the Great Lakes, and that there was no sense of urgency to take action. There is a strong need for political leaders to articulate a vision that inspires people to care.
One participant made a comment that resonated profoundly with many of us: ?The problem isn?t invasive aquatic species, toxics, climate change, or any other of the many issues we face. The problem is us. Our lifestyle has to adapt to the environment. Until we humble ourselves, and understand that we are the invasive species, we won?t get it. ?
As one participant explained, ?Rather than get bogged down in the science, we need to do a much better job of articulating to the public why they should care about the Great Lakes.? Another pointed out the need ?to inform and engage the general public, so they understand the natural capital within the Great Lakes basin.?
It is clear that public communication on Great Lakes issues - so vitally important for citizen and stakeholder engagement ? is lacking. We need to popularize or ?mainstream? communication and education on the Great Lakes in a way that would resonate with the public. Individuals and businesses need to be made aware of their connection to the Lakes and to feel that connection, including the sense of place associated with living near the Great Lakes.
On a number of occasions, the roundtables raised the issue of bringing people and organizations that care about the Great Lakes together. As one participant observed, ?There is a groundswell of interest and concern over the Great Lakes right now. How do we capture the groundswell and turn it into a tidal wave??
Participants pointed out that politicians need to be convinced that the public wants to see an investment in the Great Lakes. The awareness of the public is key. Understanding the need for life style changes is critical. As one participant explained, ?The public does not realize how low the rate of renewal of Great Lakes water is - we cannot continue to live the way we do?.
Many participants expressed the need for Great Lakes restoration in Ontario to work from the bottom up and that grassroots participation in the policy development process needs to be encouraged.
Similarly, the roundtable type process (such as the Ontario Round Tables on Employment and Economy) worked well at the provincial and federal level. Community or regional Great Lakes roundtables could be created with funding from the senior levels of government, as an alternative structure to government, to foster local engagement and to provide government with advice on the Great Lakes.
For the average citizen, the complexity of Great Lakes issues is a major barrier to participation in Great Lakes decision-making. Roundtable participants agreed that dedicated environmental education is a critical factor in fostering awareness and raising the public?s consciousness and sense of stewardship for the Lakes and the environment more generally. However, there was great concern that the necessary awareness and consciousness has been hampered by the removal of environmental science from the Ontario school curriculum.


Round Tables in the U. S.?

Does anyone know if there have been round tables, such as Gord Miller talks about, on the U. S. side of the border?
Alan Maki's picture

Concerns from around the table...

I find Mr. Miller's comments slightly self serving and hypocritical in that the provincial government of Manitoba has demonstrated a concern about one of the worst possible environmental nightmares to face Lake Superior in a long time, but neither Mr. Miller nor the provincial Ontario government has voiced any concern at all about the intent of United States Steel's MinnTac operation wanting to purge its huge "Clearwater Reservoir" of billions of gallons of over thirty years accumulated contaminated water into Lake Superior through the St. Louis River system which empties into Lake Superior at Duluth.
I think Mr. Miller should explain why the Province of Ontario has not joined the thousands of Minnesotans and the Manitoba Provincial government in demonstrating concern for this. Why hasn't the federal government intervenved as MinnTac's actions are impacting border waters... presently Lake of the Woods which includes Minnesota, Manitoba, and Ontario... and could impact Lake Superior.
Manitobans are concerned because MinnTac has been routinely discharging this contaminated water into the Dark River watershed for over thirty years without a permit or even telling anyone that there is "seepage" of millions of gallons a day which makes its way into Lake of the Woods.
I would like for Mr. Miller to explain why Ontario isn't concerned about this? Is he aware of this situation? If not he should contact the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency which claims they have notified the Provincial Government of Ontario.
Alan L. Maki
58891 County Road 13
Warroad, Minnesota 56763
Phone: 218-386-2432
Blog: h

Great Lakes.....+ Basin

I am president of the Six Mile Lake Conservationists CLub in the Township of Georgian Bay. We promote protection of our wetlands and shorelines with stewardship workshops and are involved in develpoment issues. It is an uphill battle in cottage country. People come here to use the lakes. We are starting to see some changes but it is discouraging when there are no strong laws to enforce protection of wetlands and SAR from development.
When educating the public about their responsibility to become involved in protecting the Great Lakes you need to include all the waters in the GL basin. Many of the public are not aware that when you speak about Great Lakes that it includes their waterways in the GL basin not just the Great lakes themselves. We are and will continue to see a decline in all water levels and quality in the GL basin if we continue to take our water resources for granted.
Protecting our waters is about balance throughout the Provinces. It is just not happening.
We are still losing wetlands to development. These are important ground water recharge areas and water sources that flow into the Great Lakes. They are being filled in and altered. Wetlands do not get protection even when the public speak out about the "will of the People". Stewardhip is talked about but one of the most difficult to introduce to the invasive human species particulary when it is about $.
There is not enough lawful protection for wetlands and the process is too complex. Crown land assessments and private land assessments do not follow the same process. No one has/takes the responsility.....who is it?....municipal planners, OMB, MNR, (who are suffering from cutbacks..staff,$ )MOE..., Provincial Policy/Law Makers? . It's great to promote stewardship, which means "we the people" need to do the job, but we have not the tools/ government support to do it. There is however a lot of talk about it....
Anne Lewis
Alan Maki's picture

It's those damned dollars again...

I think we are at the point where we can have a clean and healthy living environment which includes healthy Great Lakes... or, we can have capitalism... but, we can't have both.
If I lived in Ontario I would vote for the socialist New Democratic Party rather than the Liberal Party... we need to consider a new political party like the NDP here in the United States.
Jack Layton, the leader of the NDP, has made some very important contributions towards discussions like this... I hope the people that put this site together might consider inviting Jack Layton to share his views with us, too.
Alan L. Maki
58891 County Road 13
Warroad, Minnesota 56763
Phone: 218-386-2432
Blog: h

Re: Alan Maki post 05:09 pm 04/23/2007

Sir, I appreciate your concern over this issue and your obvious commitment to protecting our boundary lakes.
Please understand the role of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. I am not the Provincial Government of Ontario, nor am I attached to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. I am an independent watchdog who oversees 13 government ministries with regards to their decisions which affect the environment. I report directly to the Legislative Assembly. So if the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency contacted the Provincial Government over this issue, I would not know.
I recently ran the series of roundtables on the Great Lakes precisely because there was no existing forum in which the concerns of the public about the Great Lakes could be expressed. My concern was that the provincial government was not paying sufficient attention to the various issues and problems facing the Great Lakes. That concern seems to match yours.
With regard to the MinnTac situation, the real issue may be one of ignorance. In the 5 stakeholder roundtables and 4 public meetings I held around the Lakes, the MinnTac situation was not raised. I, and apparently most of the people engaged with the Great Lakes in Ontario, were simply unaware of this concern. We will look into it.
In terms of your obvious frustration over the provincial position in this matter, I suggest you direct your concerns to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, who would be the agencies with responsibilities re water diversions and water quality.
Alan Maki's picture

I trust you have now looked into the matter...

and taken it upon yourself to contact the appropriate agencies that you cite... you and Ontarians will be drinking this water, too.
For further information anyone can check this out on the web site maintained by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
What are any of us to think about what is going on when our Minnesota government departments and agencies have not invited Ontarians to participate in this decision making process?
Perhaps the Great Lakes Town Hall Forum should invite the head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to explain in this forum why his agency has not informed Ontarians that the MPCA intends to allow MinnTac to contaminate the water they will be drinking?
We have it from Mr. Miller that he knows nothing of this situation... this should be of grave concern to everyone reading these posts; this tells us a great deal about how truthful and honest our government is with the rest of the world.
Alan L. Maki
58891 County Road 13
Warroad, Minnesota 56763
Phone: 218-386-2432
Blog: h