11/03/2015 12:54 EST | Updated 11/03/2016 05:12 EDT

Ontario Environment Commissioner: Stop Giving 'Free Rides' To Companies That Take Water

TORONTO — Ontario's environment watchdog says it's time to end the virtual "free ride" the province gives companies who are granted large water-taking permits.

Acting environmental commissioner Ellen Schwartzel says the government has made no progress on recovering its management costs for water supplied to many industries, including golf courses and bottled water companies.

Schwartzel says the government currently recovers only 1.2 per cent of the $16.2 million it spends each year on water quantity management programs.

She says "not only do most industries get a total free ride," the few that do pay are charged only $3.71 for every million litres of water — which works out to less than $10 for enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Schwartzel says the Ministry of the Environment needs to be more open when it issues water-taking permits, complaining that only one-quarter of them are currently posted on its website for public comment.

The environmental commissioner's annual report also takes the Liberal government to task for slashing the budget to buy environmentally sensitive lands in the past five years from $5.1 million to $1,000 for the entire province.

"One thousand dollars will not go very far in purchasing land in southern Ontario...which has among the highest number of species at risk anywhere in Canada," warned Schwartzel.

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