Biologists not sold on OMYA plan

'One cannot remove volumes of water ... and not expect negative effects'

Carrie Buchanan

The Ottawa Citizen
June 28, 2001

PERTH -- It's not possible for OMYA (Canada) Inc. of Perth to remove more than a million litres of water a day from the Tay River without harming the surrounding ecosystem, an expert on the river's ecology told an environmental appeal hearing yesterday.

The Swiss-based company has a permit, which is in abeyance while the appeal is heard, to use up to 1.5 million litres daily until 2004, when it can triple that to 4.5 million litres daily. The water is mixed with calcium carbonate to form a slurry used in many products, from paint to toothpaste. It is shipped throughout North America.

The permit, if approved, would allow the company to expand its operations in Perth and nearby Tatlock. But despite several studies predicting no ill effects, including one finished this month by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, some biologists are unconvinced.

"One cannot remove volumes of fresh and clean water from the mid or upper parts of a watershed and not expect negative effects upon the natural ecological functions downstream," Ted Mosquin told the Environmental Review Tribunal yesterday.

The night before, at a public meeting, retired fisheries biologist Cameron McLeod took the same view, saying the OMYA expansion would decrease water levels enough to wipe out spawning beds for lake trout on Bob's and Crow Lakes in the Tay watershed.

Mr. Mosquin, who has a PhD from the University of California, has been a research scientist, environmental consultant, author and editor of Nature Canada and the Canadian Field-Naturalist magazines. He has written or co-authored several books and many scientific and popular articles.

"Removing clean water from a system and exporting it right out of the system certainly will be a direct cause of an increase in pollution levels downstream, and an incremental negative impact on quite a few ecological functions," Mr. Mosquin added.

Part of the problem, Mr. Mosquin said, is that Ontario's Ministry of the Environment did not follow an "ecosystem approach" to evaluate the permit, as required by its own Statement of Environmental Values. The statement is supposed to apply to all the ministry's work.

An "ecosystem approach" is supposed to consider the "air, land, water and living organisms, including humans and the interactions among them."

But even the ministry director who approved the permit, Brian Kaye, admitted in a written statement to the hearing that the ecosystem approach has proved too challenging to put into effect "at the practical, working level." So far, Mr. Kaye admitted, it's just "conceptual."

In fact, there have been significant problems putting the "ecosystem approach" into practice at every level of government, said Nancy Doubleday, assistant director of Carleton University's Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, who also testified yesterday. Ms. Doubleday is an expert on the methods used to assess environmental impacts. She has a PhD in biological sciences as well as degrees in law and environmental studies.

Yesterday was the third day of the appeal hearing, which is being conducted by the tribunal's vice-chairwoman, Pauline Browes, in Perth. The appellants, who include cottagers, full-time residents and the Council of Canadians, are making their cases this week. OMYA and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment will present theirs next week.

The hearing continues today at the Lanark County council chambers, 99 Sunset Blvd., in Perth.