85-year-old takes on Ontario

Fearing the Swiss industrial giant will turn her beloved Perth-area lake into a swamp, Ann German is seeking a judicial review of the environment minister's decision. She speaks to Dave Rogers about her fight.

Dave Rogers
The Ottawa Citizen
April 12, 2003

Ann German recalls severe dry spells when water levels were so low, parts of Bob's Lake and the Tay River went dry. She fears the amount of water OMYA has been approved to take from the river will damage the Tay watershed.

As a baby, Ann German was first carted to Bob's Lake near Perth in a laundry basket in 1921 or '22. Since then, the Toronto woman has spent most of her 85 summers on the lake that flows into the Tay River.

Now, fearing the impact of Ontario Environment Minister Chris Stockwell's decision to allow OMYA Canada Inc. to triple its water-taking from the river, Miss German has launched a legal challenge of that decision.

She believes Mr. Stockwell's decision to give the Swiss multinational more water could turn the lake into a swamp and the Tay River downstream into a trickle.

Miss German feels so strongly that industrial water use will damage the Tay River watershed that she has sought a judicial review of Mr. Stockwell's decision.

The Feb. 14 written decision contends OMYA's plan to increase water-taking "will not cause harm to the Tay River watershed."

In February 2002, Ontario's Environmental Review Tribunal ruled the company could take only 1.5 million litres a day from the river after dozens of witnesses testified that taking too much water could lower the level of the river and lakes upstream.

Miss German, who lives in a stone house she built herself on a 26-hectare property on Bob's Lake, said the lake is a reservoir created to provide water for the Rideau Canal. She said the water level can drop by three metres during a dry summer as water is drained into the canal for boating.

She recalls severe dry spells during the 1930s, 1950s and most recently in 1999, when water levels were so low, parts of the lake and river went dry.

In some spots, fish couldn't spawn, frogs and other aquatic life died or disappeared and cottagers extended their water intake pipes far out into the lake, she said.

Miss German said no Ontario company has ever been granted a phased water taking permit and there is no provincial legislation that allows such things.

"What's going on there is simply awful," Miss German says. "The minister's decision ignored the Environmental Review Tribunal and the wishes of the people. On his own, he decided to give the company more than it asked for.

"We asked that this matter go through the courts first, but he refused and took the law into his own hands. The decision was entirely arbitrary. What authority did he have to overrule the tribunal?"

A judicial review of the minister's decision expected in divisional court in Toronto will determine whether Mr. Stockwell had the legal right to issue a two-stage permit allowing OMYA to increase its water-taking to 4.5 million litres a day from 1.5 million litres daily.

Ramani Nadarajah, a Canadian Environmental Law Association lawyer representing Miss German, said the Ontario government's environmental bill of rights allows water-taking increases of up to 10 per cent, but anything more requires a new environmental hearing.

Ms. Nadarajah said a new hearing into OMYA's water taking will be necessary if Miss German wins her case.

"Our position is that the minister of environment does not have jurisdiction to issue a phased water-taking permit."