• Protecting Water and Farmland in Simcoe County

Scientists sound the alarm: contaminants found in “cleanest” groundwater

In Agriculture
Apr 28th, 2021
Special meeting of Tiny Township Council

‘There are no shades of grey on this. This is a matter of right versus wrong’

By Kate Harries AWARE News Network

Two of Canada’s leading hydrogeologists appeared before Tiny Township Council last week to sound the alarm about the threat to the uniquely pristine groundwaters of North Simcoe – waters so clean and rare that to lose them would be a crime against future generations, council was told.

The scientists, members of a team preparing to study the phenomenon, are now in a race against time as contamination has been found in the water thought to be recharged in the Waverley Uplands area, the location of intensifying aggregate extraction.

“The current operation on French’s Hill should be viewed as inexcusable,” John Cherry, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo and an internationally recognized groundwater expert, said, appearing virtually at the April 20, 2021 meeting.

Cherry explained that a general guideline in environmental science is that quarry operations should be avoided in recharge areas. But if the area is on a significant aquifer, quarry operations should not be allowed – that’s a rule.

“But there is an even more important category of recharge area – this is for recharge areas for aquifers that contain pristine groundwater, because clean groundwater is so rare that it should be preserved above all for the use of current and future generations,” Cherry said

“To expand such operations would be a crime against future generations, against our grandchildren and beyond. There are no shades of grey on this. This is a matter of right versus wrong.”

Joining Cherry was Ian Clark, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Ottawa, who has been studying the “remarkable” waters of the Waverley area for several years.

He noted that there are two categories of groundwater in the area – the distal or ancient (2,000-4,000 years old) water that is under artesian pressure, and the proximal or younger water (10 to 20 years old).

“The proximal and young groundwaters show signs of contamination by recent activity in the recharge area,” Clark said.

“My interest and concern here is that we do not have a good understanding of how these groundwaters are recharged and what effect increased activity in the recharge area will have on the quality,” he added.

“Nonetheless these activities will have both an immediate effect on the young groundwater and an effect on the pristine groundwaters for thousands of years to come.”

The exceptional cleanliness of the groundwater has been studied for 30 years by William Shotyk, Bocock Chair for Agriculture and the Environment at the University of Alberta, who owns a farm in the area.

It sparked a groundswell of opposition to a landfill site atop the aquifer. Construction of Dump Site 41 was halted at the 11th hour by Simcoe County Council in 2009. Now, there’s almost always a lineup of cars at the artesian well north of Elmvale, with many driving considerable distances to get the “world’s cleanest water,” or at least the cleanest water known to science.

(Note: The recently observed contaminants referred to by the scientists have not been observed in the artesian flows like the one north of Elmvale. They do not present a health threat to the public.)

Tiny Township Council, which heard from Shotyk and his University of Alberta colleague Mike Powell earlier this month, has agreed to be a partner in the team’s application to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

And, along with the Federation of Tiny Township Shoreline Associations, Tiny Township is appealing CRH Canada Group Inc.’s recent renewal of a permit to take water from Teedon Pit for aggregate washing.

After hearing from the scientists, councillors heard from consultant hydrogeologist Dave Hopkins of R.J. Burnside and Associates regarding an an application by the Sarjeant Company Ltd. for a renewal of its permit to take water. Hopkins identified deficiencies in the information provided by the company.

The history of the water shows there has been little political interest in understanding this unique resource – let alone taking a leadership role in advocating for its protection.

A stakeholders meeting held in Elmvale in June, 2019, when the groundwork for the NSERC application was being laid out, attracted just two elected politicians – Springwater Deputy Mayor Jennifer Coughlin and Wasaga Beach Councillor George Watson.

Shotyk made a presentation to Simcoe County Council in June, 2010, but has been rebuffed in any attempt to update county councillors on the research since then. Repeated appeals for a moratorium on activity at the recharge area to allow the study to proceed on undisturbed waters have fallen on deaf ears.

Conservative MPP Jill Dunlop, who went on a water walk in 2017 and talked of protecting the water before being elected in 2018, has since lost interest in the topic.

As for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment Conservation and Parks, which is responsible for water issues, its officials insist that ongoing aggregate activities by CRH Canada, through its division Dufferin Aggregates, and Sarjeant, have no impact on local water systems.

But Shotyk told council that, as he has collected samples from local wells as part of his ongoing research, at least two landowners in the vicinity of French’s Hill have told him their artesian flow is no longer flowing, and others have had sediment appear in their water. He has also seen changes in elements in one well that’s important in his study, but said he does not have enough data at this stage to determine its significance.

Asked by Councillor Tony Mintoff whether the area qualifies as environmentally sensitive, both Clark and Cherry said that it does. Why then, asked Mintoff, does the environment ministry not consider it to be so and deserving of protection?

The reason, Cherry said, is the way the ministry operates, based on Toronto-centric and big-city views that do not prioritize protection of the countryside groundwater environment.

“The unfortunate professional engineers and hydrogeologists in the ministry don’t author these decisions themselves, the decisions that come out of the ministry purporting to be based on groundwater knowledge aren’t signed off by professionals,” he said.

“So it’s a failure of the Ontario system. Not all parts of the world operate like this.” And, he advised, “you need to protect yourself and the environment from the ministry of the environment.”

Once the drama of the Site 41 battle – led by Anishinaabe women and local farmers, and attracting support from across Ontario – was over, national news media interest in the exceptional water faded.

But on Sunday, Shotyk was interviewed on CBC Radio’s Fresh Air program, and was able to explain to a provincial audience the mystery the scientists hope to resolve – how young water, rainwater from within the last few decades, is filtered through the recharge area to an exceptional level of cleanliness.

“The water is a national treasure,” Shotyk said. “To have water of this purity 90 minutes north of Canada’s largest city is really amazing – and the experts really do not understand this artesian flow system and we want to have a chance to understand this system before we damage the system.”

To view the council meeting go to Tiny Township’s YouTube channel, the April 20 2021 special meeting of council

Burnside report on Sarjeant pttw renewal application 

Tiny Township, home to the ‘gold standard’ of pure, clean groundwater – CBC Radio

2017 Water Walk

See also

‘Protecting extraordinary water resource’ Barrie Today


Major study of “exceptional” water planned – but will it survive “disaster” of aggregate extraction?

11 Responses to “Scientists sound the alarm: contaminants found in “cleanest” groundwater”

  1. John Morgan says:

    I know much of the discussion on this issue and it is my belief that the public is being misinformed. In true words, lied to by Government Ministries. This is very concerning particularly when water is involved. Water is life sustaining and should not take a back seat to aggregate. It is strictly money and greed. Foreign entities should not be allowed to compromise life in Canada period. Bruce Stanton MP and Jill Dunlop MPP, for this area, should step up and protect their constituents. Isn’t that why they are elected and paid to do our bidding? Other elected officials from here to Toronto should also do their job for their constituents. This can become a life and death issue in the future. Look around the world at what is happening to our water. Also all the water issues in the North of Canada.

  2. Ann says:

    I agree with you Don, why isn’t MPP Jill Dunlop getting involved in protecting this precious water!
    When her father was the MPP, he helped to save this water by introducing a Private Members Bill in the Ontario Legislature to stop Dumpsite 41! She needs to step up and do her job like her father did!

  3. Donna Deneault says:

    We must all take these words and echo them in every possible news media. I’m reeling here…it’s bad enough when a fellow citizen struggles for their rights…but this…the water cannot speak. We must speak for the water, for the generations to come. WE need to rally ’round and decide what is the next very important step. I agree that this is “criminal”. How will Canada look to the rest of the World if we do not protect this exceptional water. Let us be relentless is our pursuit of protecting this water. This is from Dec 2019, but I have written to this Doctor as well. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2019/dec/scientists-call-urgent-action-protect-global-groundwater

  4. Donna Deneault says:

    Just want to add: do we know where the contamination appears. Is it something that can be corrected? Can we go to court for these waters over the fact that: to lose them would be a crime against future generations. We must put our heads together for this…so many people in the World don’t even know this is happening.

  5. Deb Brown says:

    This is an excellent and well informed article on this very important issue. Protecting this precious groundwater is our duty. Allowing gravel companies to waste this limited water for corporate gain is disgusting. Our local, regional and Provincial government has let us down by not protecting this water, let us hope they will act before it is too late. This means YOU Jill Dunlop and Bruce Stanton.

  6. tim laughlin says:

    Shame on Jill Dunlop, MPP for the area and her lack of support. Unfortunately many in Canada do not know about this issue and am confident if they did, they would make their point by addressing this with our politicians. This will be an environmental disaster if it is not stopped. Native groups, protectors/stewards of our lands , in Canada, should also be involved in this matter in order to get this issue resolved once and for all.

    • John Morgan says:

      Unfortunately, she is not her dad who helped get Site 41 shelved. She is just a pretty face who does nothing but say yes to a ex drug dealer.

      • Allan says:

        Conservative MPP Jill Dunlop, who went on a water walk in 2017 and talked of protecting the water before being elected in 2018, has since lost interest in the topic.

        In reality, she talked the water walk. Should we be surprised? Most of our elected reps talk whatever it takes to get elected. After that, they talk of all the reasons why they can’t do anything besides talking and walking the Party line. When confronted they talk of promises that will be kept beyond the end of their current term. The 2022 election is not that many tic tocks away, so when these Talking Heads come round again tell them to take a walk.

  7. Donna Deneault says:

    I asked, (officially in writing), my Tay Township for funding for the major scientific study by the team of scientists. I asked the Clerk to place this request on their Council agenda. She did not confirm back to me. There are approximately 10,000 people in Tay, so I said “let’s start there”: how about $1.00 for each person which is $10,000.00. I’ve not heard anything back from them…(going on two weeks now.) We’ll continue to donate to the FoTTSa/CELA case as well.

  8. Ken Imrie says:

    How is it that our elected officials can have such careless disregard for protecting what in the not so distant future will be the most sought after resource around the world fresh drinkable water? It is remarkable that in many cases decisions are based solely on short term financial gain! The concern is protecting this environmental sensitive area not stopping Ontario aggregate mining altogether! Should be an easy choice right? So what is the motivating factor driving the elected officials?

  9. fran sullivan says:

    i think “septage spreading” in Tiny township is also a threat to clean water..i’d like to know about the study that was done a few years ago but i can’t get any results without going to Guelph..this has been going on for 15 years on the same properties and the ministry keeps giving them the license and tiny township is doing nothing..everything gets “shelved” and then forgotten year after year..and both sites are not far from lakes and residences..i’d appreciate hearing from somebody who agrees with me so this practice can be stopped..i have no recourse if my well comes up contaminated because it could take forever to prove it..

Leave a Reply

Commenters must post under real names. AWARE Simcoe reserves the right to edit or not publish comments. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *