November 13, 2013

Lower flow in Credit could restrict new housing

As published in The Erin Advocate

Lower water flow measurements in the West Credit River could drastically cut population growth in Erin’s urban areas, according to the Town’s consultant for the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP).

New data has been gathered by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), but its methodology is being questioned and population limits will be the subject of negotiation in the coming weeks, said BM Ross consultant Matt Pearson, appearing before Town Council last week.

SSMP reports have previously estimated the possible maximum urban population (Erin village and Hillsburgh combined) in a range from 6,500 to 13,500.

“We suspect it could be lower by 50%,” said Pearson. “The concern is, it gives you less opportunity to do stuff.” The final number remains uncertain, and Pearson would not speculate on what it might be, since the previous range was so wide. The Town currently has about 4,200 urban residents, and 7,000 in the rural areas and hamlets.

Pearson laid out a schedule for completing the SSMP by June 17, with the only full public meeting just two weeks before that. There would be three meetings of the Liaison Committee (also open to the public) with the first one on December 4. A Council workshop will be held in March to discuss alternatives and review costs with consulting firm Watson & Associates, but it is not clear whether the public will be invited.

The Liaison Committee will not get a new mandate to have more control of the process or report directly to Council. Pearson said with new members from two citizen groups, he expects there will be an improved “opportunity for dialogue”, but he reiterated that the SSMP is not intended to evaluate specific wastewater technologies. That would be done after Council has chosen a general strategy.

Councillors hope to finish the SSMP before next October’s municipal election, deciding on whether to proceed with the next stage of environmental assessment that would lead to construction of a sewer system. Pearson said if they can’t get a definite population limit by Christmas, it will throw the schedule off.

Council also approved spending $100,000 in 2014 from the Environmental Assessment Study Reserve Fund, the amount estimated for finishing off the SSMP process.

This includes $54,000 previously approved for BM Ross, $17,000 for Triton Engineering, $9,000 for Blackport Hydrogeology, $15,000 for Watson & Associates Economists and $5,000 in expenses for advertising and public meetings. Council will now get monthly status reports on progress of the SSMP.

They face a dilemma, since the urban areas have far more land available for housing growth, especially with the high densities demanded by the provincial government, than the river will be able to handle using standard wastewater methods.

If it was not for the wastewater restrictions, current urban lands could accommodate 6,000 more lots, said Pearson. Developers have had housing plans put on hold for about 10 years, and face the possibility of insufficient sewage allocation.

Pearson and town representatives met with CVC and Ministry of the Environment (MOE) staff recently to get an explanation of the new stream gauge data, which when combined with previous data, enables a measurement called 7Q20.

It is the minimum seven day average flow over a period of 20 years (i.e., in any given year there is a 1 chance in 20 that the average flow in the river over any seven days will be equal to or less than the 7Q20 value).

“It drives how much treated effluent you can put in the stream,” said Pearson. “They’ve redone this number. It will now be analyzed, but there is some question still about how they got to the number. Your hydrogeologist Ray Blackport, and the MOE people even, are questioning how CVC did their number. The number came in obviously lower than the number they used before in the environmental study report.

“Lower has implications for the whole program. Lower means less effluent can go into the stream, which means less population to work with.”

The 7Q20 number will be used to calculate an Assimilative Capacity (AC) number, a limit on the combined future population of the urban areas. When BM Ross estimated the AC number in a range from 6,500 to 13,500, CVC warned it would likely be near the low end of that range.

“It will probably take a month of negotiations, discussions and lighting fires under them to move forward. The MOE has to take a crack at this, and Ray’s going to have a crack at the methodology,” said Pearson.

“Our goal, we always thought, was to get you the highest [AC] number we could, because we’re only going to get that number once.”

After questioning by Mayor Lou Maieron, Pearson conceded that the AC number could in fact change in the future, depending on environmental conditions and wastewater technologies.
“That number is a constantly moving target,” said Maieron.

“That number will always change,” said Pearson, but suggested that might not happen for 20 years.

“Maybe down the line there will be things happening. But right now, we’re going to get a number approved by these approval agencies who have to give you a permit to discharge. You don’t get to play with a range. I need the number so you can make some decisions.”

He said if development took place, and was found in the future to be too hard on the river, regulators could demand a higher level of waste treatment, which would be a “multi-million dollar surprise”.

He said while the SSMP is also about other issues such as storm water management, it is the sewer issue that will be the “constraining factor”, one which will require a “generational decision” on the future of the Town.