OMYA left high and dry by water decision
By Ottawa Business Journal Staff
Fri, Dec 19, 2003 8:00 AM EST

A decision by the Ontario government to impose a moratorium on new permits for extracting water in the province has thrown up an unexpected hurdle to a calcium carbonate plant in Perth.

On Thursday, new Liberal Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky announced the new provincial government was considering having companies such as bottlers and brewers pay royalties on the water they use if it is pumped directly from the source.

Such a move will be a first in Canada. Dombrowsky justified the action on the grounds that resource companies such as timber and oil firms must pay fees and follow provincial regulations to take water directly from the source.

She also announced a one-year moratorium on new permits to extract water while a study is carried out on the environmental impact of removing huge volumes of water for industrial uses.

Environmental lobby groups, such as Environmental Defence Canada and the Canadian Environmental Law Association, approve the decision by the province.

The moratorium has a direct impact on Swiss-based multinational mining and manufacturing firm OMYA.

The Swiss firm operates a plant in Perth southwest of Ottawa that employs around 250 and pumps an estimated $20 million a year into the local economy. The company requires the Tay River's water to make products like paper, paint, plaster board and toothpaste.

For several years OMYA has been in a fight with local residents, with the the federal and provincial governments caught in the middle, to increase its daily take of water to 4.5 million litres from its current limit of 1.5 million.

Last year former Tory environment minister Chris Stockwell intervened to allow OMYA to increase its take even though the river had run dry a couple of years earlier.

Olivier Chatillion, president of OMYA Canada, said he was surprised by the Liberal move and said the company will have to take time to evaluate its impact.

The moratorium applies to bottlers, brewers, soft-drink producers, concrete makers and manufacturers who use 50,000 litres of water or more in a day. It does not apply to municipalities, companies that use water supplied by a municipality, or to farmers.

The amount that existing permit holders can draw has been frozen at the current level.