Water expert questions plans for Midhurst water
By David Strachan, Midhurst
Tim Lotimer is no stranger to water issues. Tim is a senior hydrogeologist and geoscientist and throughout his long career, he has consulted for many municipalities and regions in southern Ontario. He also teaches Earth Sciences at McMaster University. Lotimer was retained by the Midhurst Ratepayers’ Association as an independent water expert and this month he was in Midhurst to address the public and the council and staff of the Township of Springwater.
Large developments in Ontario (the Midhurst proposal is for about 24,000 people) require a Class Environment Assessment to determine the potential effects of a development on the envi-ronment. The Class EA for the Midhurst Secondary Plan has been underway for several years and has now entered Phase 4, which is the selection of the preferred design. As Lotimer ex-plained, Phase 4 must identify any potential impacts on the environment and must provide a de-scription of mitigation measures to minimize environmental effects.
The preferred design proposes 11 new wells, two source water treatment plants and one waste water treatment plant, which will discharge the treated effluent into Willow Creek.
From Lotimer’s presentation we learned that all wells create a “drawdown” in water level in the groundwater. This drawdown affects other wells in the region to a greater or lesser extent, de-pending upon distance from the new well. Water well drillers are required to submit records of new wells to the Minister of the Environment and a database is kept on file. From this database we can determine where recorded wells are located and approximately how these might be affected by taking a much larger volume of water for the new municipal wells. Existing wells in-clude private wells and municipal wells in both Springwater and Barrie. But although very useful, according to Lotimer, the MoECC data is not a complete record, so how can we be sure that all wells in the area will still have enough water?
Although computer models have been produced by pumping four of the new wells and measuring the drawdown, according to Lotimer, the only way to correctly anticipate the effects on every well, is to do a door to door survey of every private well using water level data loggers and then to compare results after pumping all the new wells simultaneously. Although simultaneous test pumping of all new wells is now becoming quite common, this work is very expensive and has not been done in Midhurst.
Lotimer explained that the Ministry of the Environment requires anyone who causes an impact to a private well, to restore water to that well user. If there is a problem, the burden would fall on the Township of Springwater to restore water to all affected well users, which would have signif-icant budget consequences for all Springwater residents.
The impact on Willow Creek must also be considered. Willow Creek is fed from both surface water run-off and groundwater. Lotimer said that any water taken from wells, reduces the ground-water entering Willow Creek (and the Minesing Wetlands) by an equivalent amount. This has two ramifications. The first is a lowering of the levels in Willow Creek upstream of the waste wa-ter treatment plant and the second affects water temperature. In summer, the groundwater cools the stream and in winter it keeps the water at a warmer temperature and reduces freezing. This natural occurrence provides a more temperate climate for wild life. In other words the new development poses a serious risk to the brook trout and other wild life found in Willow Creek today.
Source water quality is also a concern, again for two reasons. Firstly the well head protection area (capture zone) is quite extensive, much of it being on farmland, which generates a lot of unfriendly chemicals. In one area, the amount of nitrate in the groundwater is already close to provincial drinking water limits and is likely to rise over time. It is not inconceivable that farms in the well head protection areas could be required to reduce their use of fertilizers. The second point is that, as previously mentioned, two source water treatment plants are proposed; one in the east and one in the west. But they cannot be the same, because the impurities found in the wells are different in both areas. This adds complexity to the management of the plants and hence to the cost of maintenance.
Lotimer was not critical of the professional consultants who prepared the current hydrogeological studies, but made it clear that insufficient data has so far been provided in order to assess the full potential impacts of the new wells. He did however comment that there seemed to be unexplainable inconsistencies between the data collected in drilling the test wells, the computer modelling of the aquifers and the relatively recent (2011) extensive Ontario Geological Survey.
The effects of the waste water treatment plant (WWTP) on Willow Creek and the Minesing Wetlands is a separate issue which fell outside the terms of reference for this consultant’s studies. We do know however from the Public Information Centre presentations, that that the total phos-phorus output proposed for Phase 1 of the development, exceeds Provincial Water Quality Guidelines. We also know from Township reports, that the gradient of the water course immedi-ately downstream of the discharge point for the WWTP is only 0.06% vs the 0.5% gradient normally required for a new development. This is a concern because Willow Creek already con-tributes to flooding in the George Johnson Road area, every springtime. David Strachan Midhurst