The Nova Group, a small company from Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, has said it will challenge the Ontario government’s decision to cancel a water withdrawal permit it granted in March. The company interpreted the permit as giving it the right to market water from Lake Superior for overseas export – primarily to Asia.

Provincial Environment Minister Norm Sterling revoked the permit in May following an outcry from the Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Commission, Canadian and US environmental groups, and local protesters all of whom drew attention to the potential environmental damage and the dangerous legal precedent such a permit might set.

In its recent annual meeting in Buffalo, NY, the Great Lakes Commission – created by US federal law to represent the eight US Great Lakes states – said it had received ‘participant status’ from the Ontario Environmental Appeal Board and would testify at the December 7 hearings in support of the Ontario government which must justify its decision to cancel the Lake Superior permit.

“The Great Lakes Commission has an obligation under state and federal law to ensure that the region’s most precious resource is protected for the benefit of this and future generations,” said Dr Michael Donahue, executive director of the Commission. “We wholeheartedly support cancellation of the water withdrawal permit. Overseas water export is tantamount to draining the lifeblood of this region. Sanctioning such a practice would set a dangerous legal precedent, run counter to the spirit of existing bi-national agreements, and open the door to adverse environmental impacts that we can only begin to fathom.”

Canadian Environment Minister, Christine Stewart, is also opposed to any plan to export Great Lakes water. Stewart has said that she would like to introduce new legislation banning bulk exports of Canadian freshwater. But all of Canada’s provinces must first agree to this and several are currently caught up in consultations with government lawyers.

The Nova Group has said that it is determined to go ahead with the export of nearly 3Bn litres of Lake Superior water over a five year period and will argue in court that this is a mere drop in the ocean for a country with amply stocked lakes and rivers.

Private companies believe that there are substantial financial benefits to be gained from the export of Great Lakes water. A Newfoundland company, McCurdy Group, wants to export nearly 50Bn litres of water a year from Gisborne Lake, near Fortune Bay on the south coast of Newfoundland. US companies are also reported to be interested in importing water from British Columbia, despite the province’s ban on water exports.

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