April 18, 2012

Source Water regulations will protect Town wells

As published in The Erin Advocate

Areas close to municipal wells will soon face regulations and inspections designed to protect the drinking water supply from contamination or depletion.

A new Source Water agency will have the authority to control or prohibit activities on private property if they are considered threats. The protection will apply only to municipal wells, not to the private wells of homeowners, farmers or industries – including the NestlĂ© bottled water operation in Hillsburgh.

"The policies have been developed by a multi-stakeholder committee – so it's collaborative, it's locally driven and it's science-based," said Susan Self, Chair of the CTC Source Protection Region, at an information session about the draft plan, held in Georgetown on April 3.

A similar open house will be held on April 26, at David's Restaurant in Erin, 6-9 pm, including a 30-minute presentation expected at 6:30 pm. All comments on the proposed policies must be made in writing by May 1. Copies of the plan and maps of the affected areas are available at www.ctcswp.ca, and at the Erin library.

Town Water Superintendent Frank Smedley said that residents or businesses in the Wellhead Protection Areas are not likely to see much impact from the new system – "unless they're doing something that they shouldn't have been doing in the first place".

Potential threats include improper storage of fuel or chemicals, malfunctioning septic systems and poor management of manure. Activity may be assigned a threat score – a combination of the vulnerability of the land to transfer contaminants to drinking water aquifers, distance from the well and the risk level of the activity itself.

"If it is a significant threat, we must develop policies to manage it," said Self. "There's no choice."

The Source Water initiative is one of the major recommendations from the 2002 inquiry by Justice Dennis O'Connor into the tragedy at Walkerton, in which seven people were killed and hundreds made ill by a polluted municipal well in 2000.

"CTC" refers to the territory that includes three watersheds: Credit Valley, Toronto and Region, and the Central Lake Ontario area east of Toronto. This is the first round of consultation; a second one will be held this July, with the plan delivered to the Minister of the Environment by August 20.

"It empowers the community themselves to take action to prevent the threats from becoming significant, and it requires public participation," said Self. "Everyone in the community gets a chance to contribute to the planning process. It requires that all plans and actions are based on the science that was developed through the assessment report phase."

Detailed maps have been made for areas near the two Town wells in Hillsburgh and three near Erin village. They show a 100-metre radius red zone around each well, plus additional red areas, in which contaminants could move relatively quickly into the underground water supply.

Then there are rings showing territories for the 2-year, 5-year and 25-year time of travel for possible contamination. Since the underground water is flowing, generally towards the Credit River, the risk zones are upstream of the wells.

For the Hillsburgh wells, the risk zones extend northwest, including farmland and many homes in the village. For Erin village, the zones for the well on 17 Sideroad extend northwest, including farmland and industrial uses, including Erin Auto Recyclers. Zones for the well on the Eighth Line extend generally south, but with a red zone to the northwest covering homes and a section of Erin Heights Golf Course.

The Bel-Erin well, located near the intersection of County Road 124 and Ninth Line, was taken out of active service eight years ago, but is still operable and could be used if needed, said Smedley. Its risk zones extend southeast beyond 10 Sideroad, including a large red zone covering homes on both sides of Ninth Line, and the cemetery.

Water on the surface of the land, or in shallow aquifers close to the surface, does not necessarily move down to the deep aquifers where the Town wells draw their water. For example, monitoring of water flow from the auto recycling site on 17 Sideroad shows that it does not move into the intake area for the nearby Town well, said Smedley. Still, it is within the 2-year risk zone on the Source Water map.

Research for technical Assessment Reports started in 2006, identifying threats to drinking water, setting up a "water budget" and assessing vulnerable areas near wells that supply municipal drinking water systems. The plan outlines policies to protect these systems.

Much of the responsibility will be put on municipalities to inspect properties in vulnerable zones. They will monitor existing (and possible future) threats to both the quantity and quality of water. They will have to enforce the plan, possibly starting next year.

The Town will have to employ a Risk Management Official, who will have the powers of a Provincial Offences Officer.

The specific identified threats to water quality include waste disposal sites, and pathogens such as bacteria and other organisms from farm manure, septic systems, storm sewers, wildlife droppings and the discharge from sewage treatment plants. Also on the list are fertilizers, pesticides, salt (from roads or water softeners), stored snow, fuel, organic solvents and other chemicals. The plan has detailed policies on each type of threat.

Defined threats to water quantity include pumping activity that takes water from an aquifer, but does not return it to the same aquifer; and activity such as the paving of roads and parking lots that reduces the recharge of an aquifer.

Under the authority of the Clean Water Act, a Source Protection Plan could prohibit certain activities in vulnerable areas to prevent new threats from developing in the future.

Possible prohibition of activity on private land has become a "red flag for everybody, and we have set out the guiding principle that it's the absolute last choice – wherever possible, we would rather manage threats than prohibit them," said Self.

Education plans and incentive programs may be used to reduce threats. Small farms that may have been exempt from developing a formal Nutrient Management Plan may now have to have one. Another option for farms or businesses is a Risk Management Plan. This would have to be negotiated between the Risk Management Official and successive owners of a property.

The Town may need to adopt new bylaws, amend its Official Plan or put limitations on land use in new developments, in order to manage threats.

The province may also control activity through permits under the Pesticides Act, licenses under the Aggregates Act, or its system of Certificates of Approval (now to be called Environmental Compliance Approvals).

The 21-member CTC committee includes municipal representatives, representatives of business sectors (including agriculture, aggregate mining, golf courses and the petroleum industry), members of the public and environmental groups.

The eastern parts of the Town (including Erin village and Hillsburgh) will be supervised by a Source Protection Authority (SPA), which will be the board of the Credit Valley Conservation Authority, including Mayor Lou Maieron. The western part of the Town of Erin will fall into the jurisdiction of the Grand River SPA, in the Lake Erie Source Protection Region.