May 02, 2012

Some residents wary of well protection

As published in The Erin Advocate

Some Erin residents are skeptical about a new effort to protect municipal wells by regulating activity on nearby properties.

About 20 people came to hear a presentation and ask questions at an information session last week, hosted by the CTC Source Protection Region, a new agency dedicated to protecting drinking water.

The current plan affects only municipal wells, but Chair Susan Self said protection may be extended to private wells in the future.

Attention is now focused on maps showing red zones close to municipal wells. These areas, which include farmland and homes with septic systems, are considered vulnerable to contamination that could affect the water supply. The new protection is part of the Clean Water Act, resulting from the inquiry into fatal well contamination in Walkerton in 2000.

There are two Hillsburgh wells, one northwest of the village on Trafalgar Road, the other near Victoria Park. Erin village has two active wells near 17 Sideroad and Eighth Line. The Bel-Erin well, just south of County Road 124 on the Ninth Line, is not currently in use, but it has the largest red zone, encompassing more than 100 homes to the south.

Some residents are concerned about inspections of their property, which may cost them up to $200. If forced to replace a septic system, they may need to install a larger-capacity system to meet today's higher standards.

"These changes in my opinion would make marginal improvements at enormous cost," said Dave Dorman, who lives in the Bel-Erin red zone, in a written submission to the agency. "It is difficult for the local homeowners (in the Red Zone) to feel good about spending their monies on source water protection when this well was put out of service 9 years ago."

Erin Water Superintendent Frank Smedley said the Bel Erin well is a valuable Town asset, and he would not want to decommission it unless necessary. It still has good water quality, though the sodium content is high, and a new filter system would be needed to bring it back on-line. One or two additional municipal wells may have to be drilled as the population of Erin village increases, he said.

Construction of a sewage system would eliminate issues surrounding septic systems in urban areas. A public meeting about sewage and future development will be held on Tuesday, May 8, at 7 p.m., in the Shamrock Room at Centre 2000.

Detailed maps and more information about  Source Water Protection can be accessed at, and on paper at the Erin library. Background on the new system was published in the April 18 Advocate, and can be read at

Periodic septic inspections in red zones are expected to be carried out by the local building inspector as a result of changes already made to the Ontario Building Code. The Town may have to hire a Risk Management Officer (RMO) to deal with other threats such as fuel and pesticide storage, and spreading of manure on small farms that have not been required to adopt a Nutrient Management Plan.

"Municipalities are authorized to charge fees for inspection and approving risk management plans for existing threats," said Wellington Planning Director Gary Cousins in a report to county council last week. "Some areas are considering not charging any fees as the water protection measures have a broad public benefit."

While the prime responsibility falls to local municipalities, Cousins said the county may be able to help them deliver the protection. Mayor Lou Maieron is hoping the county will hire an RMO to service several municipalities.

County Councillor Ken Chapman, who also lives in a red zone, was critical of the Source Water meeting format, which only allowed people to question agency staff informally after the presentation. He wanted a format in which questions could be asked publicly, with everyone hearing the response.

"It's smoke and mirrors," he said.

 A second round of consultation will be held this July, with a proposed plan delivered to the Minister of the Environment by August 20. Source Water enforcement would not begin until late 2013 at the earliest.

"CTC" refers to the territory that includes three watersheds: Credit Valley, Toronto and Region, and the Central Lake Ontario area east of Toronto.

The provincial government has provided some "stewardship funding" for the process, but has not promised to cover the looming costs for municipalities and residents.

"The Province wants enhanced well security for municipal wells and as such it seems fair that the Province fund these enhancements as opposed to a select group of homeowners," said Dorman.
It would be unfair if real estate values were lowered in the red zones, he said, especially since determination of those zones "may not be entirely factual".

He suggests that municipalities pass bylaws requiring all homeowners to have their septic systems serviced and/or pumped out every 3-5 years and send in a copy of the receipt, instead of having costly inspections.

"We should protect and preserve all aquifers," said Dorman. "These 'unprotected' aquifers may be future sources of water for municipalities and they warrant protection now."

He also urged the province to fully fund public education efforts, and the town to provide incentives for home owners to replace old toilets with low-flow models.