Start Date
Primary Organizer/Manager
Wellington Water Watchers


Wellington Water Watchers' Response to Nestle Water Controversy

May 7, 2023 rajpuh1
May 7, 2023 Paul Emiljanowicz
April 17, 2023 rajpuh1
April 15, 2023 rajpuh1
April 14, 2023 rajpuh1
January 1, 1970 rajpuh1
Start Date
Primary Organizer/Manager
Wellington Water Watchers

Wellington Water Watchers addressed Nestle Waters extracting practice in Aberfoyle by raising awareness and influencing policy. Their actions highlight the importance of community engagement and activism for sustainable resource use.

Problems and Purpose

The Wellington Water Watchers (WWW) is a Canadian grassroots organization that aims to protect water resources and prevent the commodification of water in Ontario, particularly in Wellington County. The organization aimed to raise awareness about water governance and water inequality and to advocate for community engagement in decision-making processes related to water management. The organization's goal is to protect the local watershed and the rights of citizens to clean, accessible water. WWW sought to challenge corporate greenwashing and promote sustainable water management practices through community-based initiatives and activism. (Case & Connor, 2022; Case, 2017, 2019; Case & Caragata, 2009; Case & Zeglen, 2018; Jaffee & Case, 2018; Jaffee & Newman, 2013; Swyngedouw, 2007; Watson, 2017)

Background History and Context

WWW was formed in 2016 in response to a proposal by Nestlé Waters Canada to expand its water bottling operations in the region, which had already been in operation for many years (Case & Connor, 2022). Nestlé Waters Canada currently has access to up to 4.7 million liters of water per day at two sites in Wellington County and has an interest in a third well, which represents an additional 1.6 million liters per day. Nestlé's bottling facility in Aberfoyle holds a Permit to Take Water (PTTW) of up to 3.6 million liters per day, where water from Hillsburgh and Centre-Wellington is trucked in for bottling. Nestlé has applied for a renewal of their PTTW in Aberfoyle, which has become controversial due to evidence that pumping is impacting local water systems, interference with population growth needs, climate change impacts, and plastic waste proliferation. Nestlé also holds a 5-year PTTW of up to 1.1 million liters per day at a well just outside Hillsburgh in Erin Township, which has faced opposition from the community. Nestlé purchased a third well, the "Middlebrook Well," just outside of Elora, which is controversial because the Township of Centre Wellington needs it for population growth. Packaged water competes with agriculture for the best water, which depletes local sources, impacting both the amount and quality of water available for agriculture (Nestlé FAQ, n.d.). This proposal, combined with concerns about the sustainability of water resources in the area, galvanized a group of concerned citizens to take action.

One of the key features of the WWW's approach to activism is the use of participatory political processes. As Case and Caragata (2009) explain, the group's founding members were motivated by a desire to create a more inclusive and democratic approach to decision-making around water resources. They sought to engage a broad range of stakeholders in the decision-making process, including members of the public, local businesses, and government officials.

The WWW's use of participatory political processes was not the first of its kind in Canada. Case and Zeglen (2018) note that community engagement has been a central feature of water activism in many Canadian communities for decades. For example, in the city of Guelph, Ontario, a community-based campaign to protect water resources began in the 1990s and relied on grassroots organizing and community engagement to achieve its goals (Case and Caragata, 2009). Similarly, in other parts of the country, community organizations and activist groups have used participatory processes to influence water governance policies and decisions (Bakker and Cook, 2011; Norman et al., 2011).

In summary, the WWW was founded in response to concerns about water bottling operations in Ontario, and the group's founders decided to use a participatory political process in order to create a more inclusive and democratic approach to decision-making around water resources. While this was not the first time such an approach had been used in Canada, the group's efforts have been part of a larger movement to promote community engagement and grassroots organizing around water governance issues.

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The organization was started and led by concerned citizens and community groups who were passionate about protecting their local environment. According to Case and Connor (2022), the WWW was founded by a group of concerned citizens, including Maude Barlow, an environmental activist and author, and Mike Nagy, a local water activist. The organization's leadership was made up of volunteers who were passionate about protecting the local environment and raising awareness of the need for sustainable water management practices.

The government did not play a direct role in starting or leading the WWW initiative. However, the group's advocacy efforts have helped to shape water governance policies and regulations in the region. For example, the group's advocacy work was instrumental in pushing the local government to introduce a bylaw that requires companies to pay for the water they extract from the local aquifers (Sandhu et al., 2020).

In terms of funding, the WWW relies on donations from individuals and community organizations to support their work. They have also received grants from foundations and charitable organizations that support environmental advocacy and sustainable water management practices. According to Case and Zeglen (2018), the group's success is largely due to their ability to mobilize community resources and leverage social networks to raise awareness and support for their cause.

The WWW is an example of a successful grassroots initiative that was started and led by concerned citizens and community groups. Through their advocacy work, they have been able to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable water management practices and push for policy changes that protect the local environment. Their success underscores the critical role that civil society organizations can play in shaping water governance policies and promoting sustainable water management practices.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The emergence of the WWW was largely facilitated by the presence of pre-existing social networks and collective action on water issues in the Guelph region (Case & Caragata, 2009). The organizers used various communication channels to reach out to potential participants, including social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as public events like rallies, marches, and town hall meetings (Case & Zeglen, 2018). The use of these channels helped to create a broad network of individuals and organizations that were interested in protecting water resources and preventing corporate exploitation of water.

The initiative was open to all members of the community who shared their concerns about water issues in Ontario, regardless of their background or demographic characteristics. The organization has collaborated with Indigenous communities, farmers, and environmental groups to promote water stewardship and sustainable water governance in the region (Babuna et al., 2023).

The WWW relied primarily on local networks and community outreach to recruit participants. According to Case and Zeglen (2018), the organization used a pyramid of engagement model to mobilize community members at different levels of involvement, from casual supporters to core activists. This model helped to create a sense of belonging and shared purpose among participants and facilitated the growth of the movement over time.

The initiative was driven by a shared sense of purpose and a commitment to protecting water resources and preventing the commodification of water in Ontario.

Methods and Tools Used

The WWW response to the Nestle water controversy involved several methods, tools, and techniques.


  1. Social Movement: The emergence of WWW can be classified as a social movement, which is a collective effort by citizens to bring about social change (Case & Caragata, 2009).
  2. Water Activism: Water activism refers to citizen-led efforts aimed at promoting sustainable water use and management (Case & Zeglen, 2018).

Tools and techniques:

  1. Collective Action: Collective action refers to coordinated efforts by individuals or groups to achieve common goals. In the case of WWW, collective action was used to mobilize support for the cause and put pressure on decision-makers (Case & Connor, 2022).
  2. Advocacy: Advocacy involves efforts to influence policies or decisions. WWW engaged in advocacy by making presentations to municipal councils and provincial regulatory bodies (Case & Connor, 2022).
  3. Social Network Analysis: Social network analysis involves the examination of social relationships and connections to understand patterns of communication, influence, and power. It was used by Case and Caragata (2009) to understand the emergence and growth of the WWW movement in Guelph, Ontario.
  4. Pyramid of Engagement: The Pyramid of Engagement is a tool for understanding the different levels of engagement in a social movement, from passive support to active participation. Case and Zeglen (2018) used the Pyramid of Engagement to analyze the engagement of citizens in water activism in two Canadian communities.
  5. Scarcity Discourse: Scarcity discourse is a tool used by corporations and governments to create a perception of water scarcity and justify their actions. Jaffee and Case (2018) examined the use of scarcity discourse in the bottled water industry.
  6. Water extraction charge calculator: The water extraction charge calculator is a tool developed by Sandhu et al. (2020) to help municipalities in Ontario calculate fees for bulk water extraction to ensure sustainable water management.

Overall, the WWW's response to the Nestle Water controversy was multi-faceted and utilized a range of methods, tools, and techniques. Through collective action, strategic engagement, and the use of legal and financial tools, they were able to make progress towards their goal of promoting sustainable water management practices and protecting water security.

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

According to Case and Connor (2022), the group's founding and growth were facilitated by a strong network of community members who utilized various methods, tools, and techniques to engage the public and raise awareness about the environmental, social, and economic impacts of water extraction for commercial purposes.

Public participation and public engagement were essential aspects of the WWW’s response to the Nestle Water controversy. Case and Caragata (2009) stated that the group's approach was based on the principles of participatory democracy, which emphasized the active involvement of citizens in decision-making processes that affect their lives. The WWW organized numerous public events, including town hall meetings, public hearings, and demonstrations, where citizens could voice their opinions and concerns about water bottling operations in their communities (Case and Zeglen, 2018).

The methods, tools, and techniques introduced in previous studies were applied in this case to mobilize and engage the public. Case (2017) noted that social networks played a critical role in facilitating collective action and community resilience in water activism. The WWW utilized various social media platforms to connect with people, disseminate information, and coordinate actions, such as boycotts and protests. Furthermore, Case and Zeglen (2018) introduced the Pyramid of Engagement framework, which conceptualizes the different levels of participation in community engagement processes. The WWW utilized this framework to identify and engage individuals and groups at different levels of involvement and commitment.

People interacted in various ways during the WWW’s response to the Nestle Water controversy. Jaffee and Newman (2013) stated that water conflicts are often characterized by competing claims and interests, which can result in tension and polarization among stakeholders. The WWW employed a range of strategies to promote constructive dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders, including facilitated meetings and workshops, consensus-building processes, and knowledge-sharing activities (Case and Connor, 2022).

The issues discussed during the WWW’s response to the Nestle Water controversy were wide-ranging and complex, covering environmental, social, and economic concerns. According to Babuna et al. (2023), water governance plays a critical role in addressing issues of water inequality and water security, particularly in the context of water bottling operations. Participants in the WWW’s events and activities had the opportunity to express their opinions and perspectives on these issues and engage in meaningful discussions with other stakeholders.

The WWW employed a combination of face-to-face and online methods to engage the public. Case and Zeglen (2018) noted that the use of technology can enhance the reach and accessibility of community engagement processes, particularly among diverse and geographically dispersed populations. The WWW utilized various online platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to connect with people and disseminate information.

There were both professional and peer facilitators involved in the WWW’s response to the Nestle Water controversy. Case and Connor (2022) highlighted the importance of skilled facilitators in creating a safe and inclusive space for dialogue and collaboration among stakeholders. The WWW utilized trained facilitators to manage meetings and workshops and ensure that all participants had the opportunity to be heard.

The process was designed to yield a formal recommendation or decision. Case and Zeglen (2018) noted that community engagement processes can be used to inform decision-making at various levels of governance, from local to national. The WWW sought to influence the decision-making processes of local and provincial governments by raising public awareness and mobilizing support for their cause.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

According to Case and Connor (2022), the WWW’s initiative to stop Nestle's water bottling operations in the region had some success, as the company's permit to extract water was reduced by 50%. However, the article also notes that the initiative faced challenges from the provincial government's lack of support and a legal system that favored corporate interests.

Regarding citizen involvement, Case and Caragata (2009) and Case and Zeglen (2018) highlight the important role of social networks and collective action in water activism, including the WWW’s initiative. These networks allowed citizens to coordinate their efforts, build public awareness, and apply pressure on decision-makers. In addition, water activism can help build community resilience and promote eco-social work, which emphasizes the connection between social justice and environmental sustainability (Case, 2017).

Analysis and Lessons Learned

According to Case and Connor (2022), WWW was successful in raising public awareness and mobilizing a broad-based coalition against the water bottling industry in Ontario. This was achieved through social media campaigns, public meetings, and rallies that helped to galvanize opposition to water extraction by Nestle and other companies. However, the group faced challenges in maintaining momentum and sustaining public interest over a long period of time, as well as dealing with opposition from industry groups and government officials.

One potential area for improvement is in building stronger alliances with other environmental and social justice organizations, as suggested by Case and Zeglen (2018). This could help to broaden the group's reach and leverage its impact by coordinating efforts and resources across a wider network. Additionally, the use of more innovative and creative tactics, such as art installations or flash mobs, could help to sustain public engagement and interest over time.

According to Montero (2018), participants in the Nestle Water controversy were generally dissatisfied with the outcome of the legal and regulatory process. Despite the efforts of groups like WWW, Nestle was able to continue its operations largely unhindered, and many community members felt that their voices were not heard or valued in the decision-making process. This highlights the need for more robust and participatory forms of water governance, as suggested by Babuna et al. (2023) and Bakker and Cook (2011), that prioritize community input and engagement in decision-making processes related to water resources.

External Links


Babuna, P., Yang, X., Tulcan, R. X. S., Dehui, B., Takase, M., Guba, B. Y., Han, C., Awudi, D. A., & Li, M. (2023). Modeling water inequality and water security: The role of water governance. Journal of Environmental Management, 326, 116815.

Bakker, K., & Cook, C. (2011). Water Governance in Canada: Innovation and Fragmentation. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 27(2), 275–289.

Case, R. A., & Connor, L. (2022). From concern to action: the founding of the WWW and the battle against water bottling in Ontario, Canada. Local Environment, 1–15.

Case, R. B. (2017). Eco-social work and community resilience: Insights from water activism in Canada. Journal of Social Work, 17(4), 391–412.

Case, R. B. (2019). Social Work and the Moral Economy of Water. Critical Social Work, 17(2).

Case, R. B., & Caragata, L. (2009). The Emergence of a New Social Movement: Social Networks and Collective Action on Water Issues in Guelph, Ontario. Community Development.

Case, R. B., & Zeglen, L. (2018). Exploring the Ebbs and Flows of Community Engagement: The Pyramid of Engagement and Water Activism in Two Canadian Communities. Journal of Community Practice, 26(2), 184–203.

Cook, C., & Bakker, K. (2012). Water security: Debating an emerging paradigm. Global Environmental Change-human and Policy Dimensions, 22(1), 94–102.

Jaffee, D., & Case, R. B. (2018). Draining us dry: scarcity discourses in contention over bottled water extraction. Local Environment, 23(4), 485–501.

Jaffee, D., & Newman, S. (2013). A More Perfect Commodity: Bottled Water, Global Accumulation, and Local Contestation. Rural Sociology, 78(1), 1–28.

Montero, D. (2018). Corporate governance. The case of Nestlé waters. Voices of Mexico.

Nestlé FAQ. (n.d.). Wellington Water Watchers.

Norman, E. S., Bakker, K., & Dunn, G. (2011). Recent Developments in Canadian Water Policy: An Emerging Water Security Paradigm. Canadian Water Resources Journal, 36(1), 53–66.

Sandhu, G., Wood, M., Rus, H. A., & Weber, O. (2020). Bulk water extraction charge calculator: a tool for sustainable water management in Ontario. Canadian Water Resources Journal, 45(1), 59–76.

Swyngedouw, E. (2007). Dispossessing H2O: The Contested Terrain of Water Privatization. In: Heynen N., McCarthy J., Prudham S. and Robbins P, Editor(S). Neoliberal Environments: False Promises and Unnatural Consequences. New York and London: Routledge; 2007. P. 51-62.

Watson, B. W. (2017). The troubling evolution of corporate greenwashing. Chain Reaction, 129, 38.;dn=766428450523476;res=IELHSS