The way I see it the main panel at the garage will need a GEC going unbroken back to the water meter.
Unbroken, OR spliced via busbars or exothermic welds. Routing the GEC through the existing panel's busbar is acceptable per 250.64. In this case, the ground between the two panels is an GEC and must be a discrete wire sized IAW 250.66.
That said, the GEC is still required to be as short and straight as possible*, so the AHJ may feel routing through the old panel is unnecessarily circuitous and may require a more direct connection between the new panel and ground. In this case, the connection between the two panels is no longer a GEC, but merely an EGC, and EMT is acceptable if properly bonded.
* 250.4(A)(1) became stricter about this in NEC 2008.