More encompassing approach needed to deal with water taking: Bulmer

Puslinch councillor Matthew Bulmer thinks the township needs a more encompassing approach to deal with water taking – rather than looking at permits on a case-by-case basis.

Water taking and water permit discussions took up considerable time at the July 20 Puslinch council session.

One discussion included comments from the Wellington County municipal peer review response regarding the Water Quantity Risk Assessment Report (Tier 3) – for the City of Guelph and Guelph-Eramosa Township water systems.

Mayor Dennis Lever stated Puslinch officials have some concerns regarding the deadlines in the process, noting delays won’t help the situation.

A letter previously sent on behalf of Puslinch outlined a number of technical and process-related concerns, including:

– how the Tier 3 captures the groundwater/surface water interactions around the Arkell Spring grounds;

– the need to collect stream flow rate data in 2016 in the Eramosa River around the Arkell Spring grounds to better inform the Tier 3 model; and

– how the Tier 3 captures the bedrock valley on the east side of Guelph, the geological interpretation outside the city limits, verification of draw down by the city’s wells near Aberfoyle and the effects of reduced municipal pumping during drought scenarios.

Wellington Source Water Protection also asked for the opportunity to present concerns directly to the Tier 3 Peer Review committee.

At the same time, Puslinch council also looked at the well for drinking water at Mini Lakes.

After a wait of just under four years, Mini Lakes now has approval from the Ministry of the Environment to make modifications.

“It’s some good News for them,” Lever said.

As council later reviewed correspondence from Harden Environmental regarding Royal Canin Canada’s permit to take water, councillor Bulmer noted some of the points raised in Stan Denhoed’s  report were similar to those raised by the proponents of Meadows of Aberfoyle.

There the suggestion was made that the downward water level trends in the bedrock aquifer was the result of climate change.

Bulmer said “regardless of the cause – climate or not – I’m concerned with the number of reports indicating a downward trend in the Gasport Aquifer.”

He referred to the Tier 3 study in Guelph, which is also drawing from the same aquifer.

“It would be interesting if Mr. Denhoed could produce a report of all water taking operations … and a timeline … to see if it could be matched to a trend,” said Bulmer.

That way, he said, the downward trend might be linked to climate change – or water taking.

“My concern is the downward trend is suggesting we may have passed the sustainable point – and over-allocated the aquifer … if it is declining.”

While the current impact may not be significant, Bulmer said it is better to act sooner than later.

Mayor Lever added the Tier 3 study with the city is going through the GRCA.

“It is a concern what the city will consider as ‘significant’ regarding future water takings,” said Lever, adding  that goes back to the point of whether or not water taking from the aquifer is sustainable.

At the same time, Lever was uncertain as to whether the township would want Denhoed to get involved in a large scale research project on “all the water taking permits in the area.”

Bulmer said “my concern is the Tier 3 water budget is focussed on protecting Guelph’s taking, not necessarily the protection of the sustainability of the aquifer or its long-term life.”

Bulmer said he would like to see something from the Ministry of Environment stating that if there is a downward trend in the aquifer … that all those who have permits be required to “back off” a bit until that trend stops.

Lever said Bulmer had valid points.

“We also know that Nestlé is currently awaiting renewal of its permit to take water (in Aberfoyle),” Lever added.

He wondered if the same downward trend is being identified in Nestlé’s monitoring wells.

Bulmer said similar comments in Nestlé’s annual report also identified the issue as climate related.

“Regardless of the cause … I’m trying to get away with dealing with individual permits as ‘one-offs’ or identifying individual water takers as good or as bad.”

Bulmer stated “the aquifer responds to all water taking and all climate situations.” He added he would like something from the MOE directed at the sustainability of the aquifer rather than the approval of an individual water taking permit.

Lever commented “our expectation is that someone at the ministry is looking at that before issuing the permit.”

He asked whether the township was being overconfident in the ministry’s abilities.

“Perhaps,” responded Bulmer. He agreed that is the township’s expectation – but it may not be happening.

Lever asked if Denhoed could be invited to a council meeting for further discussion.