‘This is water that needs to be treated differently’
University of Alberta professors Michael Powell and William Shotyk discuss groundwater studies with Tiny Township
By Kate Harries – AWARE News Network
In an impassioned plea to Springwater Township Council – and, implicitly, to policy makers up to the federal level – Geologist Michael Powell called for special consideration to be given to the exceptionally clean groundwater found in North Simcoe.
“I’m a scientist,” Powell told a May 19, 2021 special meeting of council, “but I get emotional about this. This is not a nimby situation, a not in my backyard.”
“This isn’t a water vs aggregate issue,” he added, in reference to increased aggregate extraction from the Waverley Uplands, the recharge area that may be the reason the water is so clean.
“There is a water here that needs to be treated differently than most water. It is a Canadian treasure that’s known globally.” The water is the reference water, the standard against which others are measured, in laboratories in Canada and Europe.
“We want to make sure that the natural analogue that produces this water is not destroyed before we understand it,” he said.
Interviewed later, Powell explained that he was referring to the data that’s the sum of the conditions that lead to water that’s tested cleaner than 5,000-year-old Arctic ice. The information is of critical importance because it will allow creation of a model that scientists can then take to other areas with similar conditions, giving them a better chance of identifying similarly clean water.
Powell appeared before council with geochemist Bill Shotyk, who is Bocock Chair for Agriculture and the Environment at the University of Alberta. Shotyk owns a farm in Springwater Township, where he identified the unusual quality of the water 30 years ago, and has been testing it ever since.
The two are part of a scientific team that will be seeking funding from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for a five-year research project. They will apply for NSERC’s maximum level of funding, $1 million a year. The application will be filed in September and if successful, work would begin early in 2022.
At a recent presentation to Tiny Township Council, Powell, Shotyk and two leading hydrogeologists – John Cherry of the University of Waterloo and Ian Clark of the University of Ottawa – raised the alarm about contaminants found in some of their test samples.
Expansion of aggregate extraction would be a crime against future generations, against our grandchildren and beyond,” Cherry told Tiny councillors at the April 20, 2021 meeting. “There are no shades of grey on this. This is a matter of right versus wrong.”
Shotyk and Powell’s presentations on the history of the water and what they hope their research can reveal can be found on Springwater’s YouTube section, under “Special Meeting of Council – May 19, 2021.”
The scientists’ request to council: to sign on as partners in the research project – a partnership that can mean as little as staying informed, or as much as active participation in terms of resources and time.
Springwater councillors seemed receptive and referred the matter to staff for a report.
Councillor George Cabral asked how far the aquifer extends, and what kind of impact the degradation of the water would have.
“I can’t answer that question,” Shotyk replied. When he first brought Cherry and Clark to look at the water from a hydrogeologist’s perspective, they were mystified by the test results.
“We do not understand this at all,” they told him. “The experts don’t know. We need to understand this water so we can answer questions like yours, understand what impacts land use changes in the area may have on this water.”
And, he added: “It’s not great water or excellent water, it is spectacular, unique water.”
Councillor Perry Ritchie said he’d like to hear from other experts, like those at the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority. “There are other outfits that have studied groundwater,” he said. “I’d like to hear from them what they have to say… I appreciate what you’re doing, yes we have the best water in the world… but I tend to believe there are other people out there that have information about this groundwater.”
Powell noted that the research project will generate new data from boreholes and other highly specialized research methods the team brings to the project. The information that’s needed to determine the parameters of the water and decide future activity in the area does not yet exist.
“Nobody knows the hydrogeology of this area well enough to be able to say they can predict everything that is going to happen because of land use change in that area,” Powell said.
Mayor Don Allen asked if the scientists have had any indication they will be successful in their application.
No, Powell said. That just doesn’t happen on these types of projects.
But, “we know that this project is unique, we know that it meets all of the requirements for funding … We know that the people who are applying for it have been extremely successful in their careers in receiving funding for this kind of work.”
So the chances are good. If the water is not destroyed before the study gets going.
Watch the Council meeting here.