COLUMN: Taxing wells may open Pandora’s box

Last summer I raised the issue of regulations being considered that would result in the metering of private water wells.

COLUMN: Taxing wells may open Pandora’s box

Last summer I raised the issue of regulations being considered that would result in the metering, and thus fees to government, of private water wells.

This summer, thanks to Nestlé Waters, the issue has moved from the “let’s try to bury this” at the municipal level, to province-wide awareness relating to what is assumed to be ‘unfettered’ use of ground water.

Nestlé, apparently, annually pumps some 265 million litres out of a well in Hope to sell in bottles throughout the country, and perhaps internationally. This amount of water, by the way, is roughly equivalent to the volume of 10 Olympic-size swimming pools which, knowing how much it rains in Hope, doesn’t seem that much.

However, a huge multi-national taking ‘our water for free’ has raised a hue and cry amongst those who derive their water from a city tap, though I’d also guess most of them buy bottled water too.

Why should we pay, when they get it for free is the refrain. They should be charged, and contribute to the tax stream, they say.

Let’s look at the numbers. A bottle of water costs a buck a litre more or less at the retail level.

That means Nestlé gets about 17 cents a litre … the rest is made up of retail mark-ups (and taxes). Thus to be fair, any kind of government levy on a litre of raw water couldn’t amount to more than a penny … a tax revenue flow of $2.65 million from Nestle. Not chump change I will admit, but by selling our water, possibly for international markets, we are placing ourselves on the proverbial slippery slope.

For instance, what happens when one of the formerly highly touted run-of-river hydro projects discovers it can make more money selling ship-loads of water to foreign countries than it can by selling electricity.

Whether the commercial revenue is 17 cents a litre, or more depending on who you sell it to, it equates to the price of oil at the wellhead, and you know how profitable Big Oil is. Factor in that water demand will only increase, thanks to climate change, and suddenly selling our water to foreign populations has great potential.

If government decides it must charge Nestlé (and they are not the only ones bottling B.C. water), how can it then deny anyone else the same precedential opportunity to sell our water from a private well? First Nestlé’s bottles, then tanker loads and then, perhaps, a pipeline to California or ???

The only way to stop all of that is simple. Ban export of our water, in any form or vessel including plastic bottles, outside our national boundaries.

That avoids the slippery slope and negates the need for taxing and/or metering groundwater consumption (other than as a tax grab) because if large-scale commercial users are taxed, then individual private well owners likely will have to be charged as well.

Government of course, based on the premise that it is their water … like they control the rain and snow … and thus to save our water, they need to monitor, meter and charge us for it.

This, by the way, isn’t new stuff despite Nestlé being made the bad guy in the past couple of weeks.

The City of Abbotsford, in engineering report ENG 48-2012 (look it up on the city website), has considered metering private wells locally, probably based on the assumption that the province may be also considering same. When I commented about it a year ago, then city manager Frank Pizzuto responded in a letter to the editor saying “the City of Abbotsford has no plans to meter private wells, and it is unclear where this suggestion may have originated.”

Well, it originated in ENG 48-2012 and the report is still in play, and now thanks to the Nestlé furor, owners of private wells across B.C. may soon find they don’t just own a water source but yet another revenue stream for villages, cities, regional districts and the province.

Oh, and any tax on bottled water will be passed on to the consumer, an option not available to the homeowner on a well.