The Thames Sydenham and Region Source Water Protection Committee and St. Clair Township council have a new perspective on the potential threat industrial wind turbines pose to water wells.
This perspective has come from members of the Wallaceburg Area Wind Concerns citizen group, which is worried about the impact the proposed Otter Creek wind turbine project will have on water wells in the north Wallaceburg area.
Sharing the same aquifer with the Kettle Point black shale geology where several water wells have experienced problems during and after construction of the North Kent Wind farm, WAWC has been active in seeking safeguards to prevent potential damages to water wells from the Otter Creek project.
Violet Towell and Denise Shephard decided to go back to the Walkerton water tragedy to look at legislative changes enacted under the Clean Water Act to improve Ontario’s sources of municipal drinking water.
They learned 22 different source water protection committees were created across the province to ensure the safety of water is maintained. They began examining the Thames Sydenham and Region Source Protection Plan and discovered private water well systems are not included, and neither are industrial wind turbines.
But they also learned that can change.
Towell said everything in the source water protection plan documents suggests “once you know it’s a threat you need to be able to add it” to the plan.
Shephard said what happened in Walkerton “took seven deaths to bring all of that protection.”
Citing the fact there are multiple families without drinking water in the North Kent Wind farm project area, she said, “What’s it going to take now to have this recognized?”
Towell and Shephard made a presentation to the source water protection committee on March 23, which takes in the Upper and Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authorities and St. Clair Region Conservation Authority, to discuss this issue.
Their detailed presentation prompted some action.
Towell said she found out the committee held a lengthy conference, which resulted in a letter being written to Chris Ballard, Minister of Environment & Climate Change.
The letter, dated April 10, highlights the committee’s concerns about “the deterioration of water quality in private wells in the Municipality of Chatham-Kent within our source protection region.”
In another excerpt, the committee states: “We write this letter urging the ministry to consider the principles of the Clean Water Act and source protection planning when reviewing and approving any new wind projects.”
The letter also notes while the committee’s mandate in the protection of municipal sources of drinking water, it wants “to ensure that there are safe and reliable sources of water for all users in the Thames-Sydenham and Region.”
Towell said, “I think that we’ve moved some people into thinking about it and those who had already been thinking about it got more agitated about what was going on.”
One of those people is Darrell Randell, who is the Lambton County representative on the source water protection committee, as well as a member of St. Clair Township council.
Referring to what has happened to some property owners in the North Kent Wind area, Randell said, “I think it’s outrageous that people are without their source of water.
“I am very suspicious that is directly related to the construction and operation of the wind turbines,” he added.
Admitting he doesn’t know for sure the turbines have caused well problems, Randell said, “It sure makes sense to me that when you start putting up these things and start driving them through what the source water protection committee describes as a ‘highly vulnerable aquifer’ that it’s going to have an effect.”
After WAWC made a presentation to St. Clair Township council on April 16, Randell made a motion that requests the source water protection committee and MOECC that the private wells in the four southern concessions of the township be considered to have the potential to be threatened by the proposed Otter Creek wind farm project.
The MOECC and developers of the North Kent Wind have publicly stated it is not the wind turbines that are causing the water well problems in the north Chatham-Kent area.
Shephard said the ministry’s stance “is what has amazed and troubled us,”adding it prompted the group into action.
Towell said WAWC is in the process of applying to make a deputation to Chatham-Kent council about source water protection. She added they are aiming to make their presentation by mid-May.
An email response received by the MOECC, early Monday evening, stated that under the Clean Water Act, municipalities already have the authority to include clusters of private wells in a local source protection plan.
“The ministry encourages municipalities to first look at how they can take steps and use tools such as the Planning Act and Building Code, to protect vulnerable sources of drinking water,” the MOECC said. “Where these tools are not enough, they can consider passing a resolution to include these systems in their local source protection plan.”
The MOECC also noted the Renewable Energy Approval application process requires proponents of wind facilities to consider and appropriately mitigate any negative environmental effect that may result from the construction, operation and decommissioning of the facility.
“As part of any new proposed project, proponents may consider conducting baseline water sampling, which will help identify the conditions which exist prior to the implementation of a project, and consider information on how vulnerable sources of drinking water are susceptible to contamination.”
The ministry added the Ontario Government is committed to protecting the health and safety of residents in communities that are home to renewable energy projects.
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