The Ottawa Citizen
February 22, 2003
Dave Rogers

Keep 'political hacks' away from water: One of Canada's top water experts blasts OMYA decision

One of Canada's most eminent water scientists says the federal government, not the provinces, should control the water in rivers, lakes and streams to prevent it from being abused for commercial purposes.

David Schindler, the winner in 2001 of the $1-million Gerhard Herzberg Canada gold medal, an award given to Canada's top science researcher, has also won two global prizes given to water scientists for lifetime research. He is credited with proving that acid rain really does kill fish, with tracing the path of DDT and other toxic chemicals into the high Arctic and with showing how hydro dams and global warming change the chemistry of lakes.

The Edmonton-based scientist was in Ottawa yesterday to speak to graduate students at the University of Ottawa.

Asked afterwards to comment on the Ontario government decision to let OMYA Canada take 4.5 million litres of water a day from the Tay River near Perth, he said too many irresponsible politicians approve large water-taking permits with no knowledge of the consequences. He said he thinks provincial governments are more susceptible to pressure from businesses than the federal government, and so the federal government should be in charge.

He also said the federal government could create a uniform water policy across Canada.

Mr. Schindler said the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal, which ruled in February, 2002 that OMYA should take only 1.5 million litres of water a day from the river, probably made the right decision in the Tay River case and no politician or bureaucrat should have overturned it. "Water across this country needs a review. I think it should be under federal jurisdiction so political hacks can't jerk around these decisions. Why have a water tribunal if a politician can overturn it with the stroke of a pen?"

OMYA mixes water with crushed calcium carbonate to produce a slurry that is shipped throughout North America to make paper, paint, toothpaste, wallboard, plastics, calcium supplements, antacids and many other products. This effectively removes the water from the Tay watershed. Mr. Schindler said the government should discourage industrial uses that extract water without returning it to its source.

"We need tough and uniform laws regulating water because we are going to see a big shortage of water in the coming century as the climate warms," he said. "We have acted as if water is expendable in this country because we have got so much of it, but nobody has noticed that the people don't live where the water is.

"Most of the water is in the north or is flowing rapidly there and most people in industry are within a few hundred kilometres of the American border, where we have no more water on average than much of the U.S.A. I would prefer to see a ban on exporting products containing water."

Mr. Schindler said he didn't believe that any mineral product was valuable enough to justify shipping large quantities of water out of the Tay River watershed.

"There is a mentality out there that if there is enough water left to cover the fishes' backs, everything is OK," Mr. Schindler said. "But my experience is that the fisheries resource declines in proportion to how humans mess it up.

Mr. Schindler said shipping a lot of water for industrial purposes doesn't make sense, because calcium carbonate could be shipped to factories as a dry powder. "The use of small streams for questionable purposes an old Canadian tradition," Mr. Schindler said. "It is what is drying up all our aquifers in the West.

"This is a wetter part of the country, but there are more people, more intense industry and a lot more destruction of resources already.

Calcium carbonate is plentiful in the U.S. -- why can't they supply their own?"

GRAPHIC: Photo: Jean Levac, The Ottawa Citizen; David Schindler said he thinks provincial governments are more susceptible to pressure from businesses than the federal government, and so the federal government should be in charge of water supplies.