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Centre Wellington to work with province to ensure water is ‘a public trust’

by Mike Robinson

ELORA - Centre Wellington has voted in favour of including the phrase “public trust” in comments the township is making to the province regarding bottled water technical guidelines.

On Jan. 23, councillors reviewed a report on the province’s guidance document from Centre Wellington managing director of infrastructure services Colin Baker.

On Oct. 17 the province announced a two-year moratorium on new or increasing permits for water bottling operations. It also applies to permits for groundwater pumping tests related to the water bottling industry.

Baker stated Centre Wellington provided comments to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) on Dec. 1 and, “The next day on Dec. 2, the MOECC released a new technical guidance document related to water taking and how they will be reviewed.”

Since then, the township has had the document reviewed by its hyrdogeologist Blackport Hydrogeology Inc. (BHI) to prepare comments.

Baker stated that he and CAO Andy Goldie conducted a conference call with senior ministry staff for clarification of some items.

Baker noted there is a new section of the guidance document called “water availability.” To Baker, one of the main points regarding the availability of water included the “planned municipal use of water.”

He stated the current experience is “first come, first served ... now this opens the door for prioritization for municipal or agricultural use.”

In looking to the next step, Baker wondered if this would allow municipalities to “bank” water.

“We know we are in a growing community ... and that we will likely need additional water supply capacity to meet future projects,” he said.

He noted municipalities can reserve capacity for five to 10 years, but asked if this would open things up for a longer time frame.

The township continues to work with the GRCA on the Scoped Tier 3 Water Budget for Centre Wellington, which will better characterize groundwater availability, identify significant drinking water threats from a quantity perspective, and inform future water supply requirements.

The township’s long-term water supply master plan was approved in the 2017 capital budget and is scheduled to begin this spring.

Baker’s report asks the township to recommend that the province review and amend the regulatory framework for water management to address the following:

- ensure municipal water takings are the priority over other water takings; and

- growing municipalities should be able to secure the ability to “bank” water supply capacity for planned growth to the planning horizon (2041) based on the completion and approval of a class environmental assessment for new water supply sources.

The township will continue to lobby the Ontario government to declare commercial water taking should not be permitted unless there is clear and publicly available scientific evidence that there will be no significant impact on the quality and quantity of the local water supply.

Councillor Kirk McElwain said he remains concerned with limiting the ability to “bank” water to the year 2041.

“Our population will continue to grow,” he said. “A 25-year horizon to me just does not seem sufficient to protect our community’s water.”

Baker agreed it was a fair comment and the community will likely continue to grow. However, from the township perspective, it has no numbers to work with beyond that year.

“It would be a bit of a guess ... the Places to Grow numbers offer a bit of certainty to 2041,” Baker said.

Goldie noted Centre Wellington’s interest is the continued protection of the water source.

McElwain again commented on the issue of priority of use.

He spoke of “well thought out input from local citizens,” asking that water be designated as a public trust.

McElwain asked if a recommendation could be made recognizing that water is a public trust.

Mayor Kelly Linton said citing water as a public trust moves discussion in a bit of a different direction.

He asked if the township could include the phrase within the resolution and still keep it true to the intent in listing priorities of water use hierarchies.

Linton suggested the township support the approach of water as a public trust. McElwain instead suggested simply promoting water as a public trust.

Further discussion refined the direction to state the township work with the province to ensure water as a public trust, giving municipalities a higher priority of use over all other groundwater users.

 

February 3, 2017

 
 

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