McGuinty urges review of water needs
Liberal leader says Ontario should limit OMYA's water-taking from Tay
Dave Rogers
The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, December 07, 2002
OMYA Canada president Olivier Chatillon says a federal study shows the company's water-taking plan is justified.

Ontario Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty says an eventual Liberal government would establish a moratorium on water permits until it's determined whether there's enough water to go around.

The Liberal leader was commenting on a proposal by OMYA (Canada) Inc. to take 4.5 million litres of water each day from the Tay River in Perth to produce a calcium carbonate slurry for export. That is equal to the amount of water that used by all 6,000 residents, businesses and civic facilities in Perth, and Mr. McGuinty said it exceeds Canada's daily export of beverages.

The province's Environmental Review Tribunal said OMYA should limit its water-taking to 1.5 million litres a day. However, Environment Minister Chris Stockwell recently agreed to consider approving OMYA's proposal.

"This is a government that refuses to stand up for the environment," Mr. McGuinty said. "I am challenging Premier Ernie Eves to do the right thing and uphold the Environmental Review Tribunal decision, which was fair and balanced.

"When we form a government, we would establish a moratorium on all new water permits until we conduct an audit to find out how much water we have and determine whether there is enough to justify further water-taking.

"It is nonsense to give the water away for free. We should be charging for it because it is part of our common heritage."

Opponents of the OMYA plan say Mr. Stockwell would violate key Walkerton Commission recommendations if he grants OMYA's appeal.

Carol Dillon said yesterday she can't understand why ministry advisers reversed their previous position and agreed with OMYA's plan to take 4.5 million litres daily from the river.

Intense lobbying by OMYA appears to have left the company poised to increase its industrial water consumption and to go beyond the limits set by a recent environmental review tribunal.

OMYA currently gets its water from wells near its Perth-area plant.

OMYA Canada president Olivier Chatillon said a federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans study shows that the company's proposed water-taking is justified, and other studies show that slurry production will have no noticeable effect on the river.

Ms. Dillon said the controversy over the Tay pits the demands of a multinational company against the desire of rural people to preserve their water resource. The Tay is part of a watershed that drains dozens of lakes
near Perth and is one of the main water sources for the Rideau Canal.

OMYA, a Swiss multinational with a processing plant at Glen Tay west of Perth, mixes the water with pulverized calcium carbonate, to produce a white slurry about the consistency of mustard. The product is shipped throughout North America to produce quality paper, paint, toothpaste, wallboard, calcium supplements and antacids.

The company appealed to Mr. Stockwell after Mr. Chatillon said that unless the company got what it wanted, it would reconsider its position in Canada and and advise potential European investors to be careful about investing here.

Ms. Dillon said a granting of OMYA's appeal would violate part of the Walkerton report that recommends:

- producing a water budget that calculates the amount of water in a water system and the amount available for use; and

- that citizens have some control over what happens to sources of water.

"The report of the Walkerton Inquiry came out very strongly for the role of the local community to participate in local water decisions," Ms. Dillon said. "This is the first test case of the government's commitment to the Walkerton Inquiry report.

"The decision that we got from Ontario's Environmental Review Tribunal and that we want the government to uphold contains the same principles as the Walkerton Inquiry. Both documents call for a watershed approach and a clear definition of how much water is in the system and how much is taken out."

Ms. Dillon said that despite several scientific studies of the Tay, the government still doesn't know how much water is available and what is needed for future use.

"We have had drought in Eastern Ontario for the last three years, some people's wells have dried up and they have had to truck in water," Ms. Dillon said. "We are a rural community that has to live with drought and that makes everyone sensitive to water issues."

Ms. Dillon said that for an average of 33 days each summer, the river's flow drops below one cubic metre per minute, the level at which the company must stop pumping water. The company has said that no interruption in production can be tolerated and has never explained what it will do when water levels
are low, Ms. Dillon said.

OMYA must make its final submissions to Mr. Stockwell by Monday. No date has been set for a decision.