On Friday October 28th, 2016 Water Services released a report which outlines Guelph’s strategy for managing risks to the sustainability of our drinking water supply. In particular, the report reiterates the City’s long standing positions on commercial water takings in our region and the risks they may pose to Guelph’s future needs. I’m proud of staffs ability to prepare such a thorough and well articulated report on short notice (Council motion was only passed in late September). Further, I’m proud of the mitigation measures already being established to address these risks through a comprehensive Tier 3 Risk Assessment (currently ongoing) for Guelph and surrounding townships under the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
Through this process (Tier 3 Risk Assessment), I’m confident our staff will continue providing council with expert advice and recommendations grounded in evidence based science, with a focus on implementing sustainable water resource use in our region. To this end, I’m hopeful council will share a unanimous voice in calling for a science based review of the water taking permit process in Ontario. A message similar to the one delivered on September 23, 2016 by Premiere Wynne when she called on the environment minister to “explor[e] ways to ensure sustainability remains the top priority for the use of our surface and groundwater. Your work will acknowledge that immediate improvements are needed when it comes to water bottling practices, particularly in the face of climate change, the increasing demand on water resources by a growing population, and concerns about water security”.
Below are some pertinent sections of the Staff report that I believe all residents should be aware of.
Managing Our Water Resources
The City, Wellington County (as the municipality responsible for source protection in Puslinch Township), the GRCA (as the Source Protection Authority) and the MOECC (as the regulatory authority) are in the process of completing a Tier 3 Risk Assessment for the water supplies of Guelph and GET under the requirements of the Clean Water Act. The Tier 3 RA has performed a water budget analysis of the areas surrounding Guelph and GET to compare available groundwater and surface water supply to the demand from existing, future and planned drinking water systems. Where the ratio of water demand to water supply is high, subwatersheds have been classified as having a Moderate or Significant potential for water quantity stress.
The process for the Tier 3 RA was defined in technical rules provided by the MOECC and was conducted using three-dimensional integrated groundwater and surface water flow computer models of a large area surrounding Guelph and GET. The groundwater-surface water models were used to assess the availability of water supply under a number of scenarios including existing conditions, future demand, future land development and drought conditions. For most scenarios, Guelph’s existing water supply was able to meet the future demand; however, under the extreme scenario for the combined impact of drought conditions (10 year drought – simulated as the precipitation record during the drought from 1960 to 1970), land use development, and additional future municipal pumping, there was a significant risk that the water supply system would not meet the future demand.
To manage the potential risk, GRCA, Guelph, the County and GET will develop risk management measures and water quantity policies in 2017 under the guidance and public consultation requirements of the Clean Water Act and associated regulations. The Tier 3 RA and the groundwater surface water models provide a sound technical basis for the development of water resources management plans to ensure quantity, protection and preservation of our resources for a sustainable municipal water supply.
As a permitted water taker in the study area for the Tier 3 RA, Nestlé will be subject to the risk management measures evaluation and potentially subject to the water quantity policies to be developed for the Source Protection Plan. It is expected that, since Nestlé is a water taker in the study area, there will be opportunities for the City, County, GET, the GRCA, the MOECC and Nestlé to work together to develop appropriate risk management measures, to effectively manage the local water resources to ensure sustainable water taking for users of the groundwater resources in the study area. It is expected that the current water taking by Nestlé can be managed to ensure that the potential impacts of the Nestlé water taking on Guelph and the surrounding communities, now and in the future, do not exacerbate the potential risk determined in the Tier 3 RA.
Sustaining Guelph’s Water Supply in the Future
One of the proposed options to supplement the City’s future water supply is a potential new water supply well (“Guelph South Well”) located near the southeast corner of the city. As noted in the WSMPU, this well is a potential future water source as determined from groundwater modelling, and subject to agreement from the Township and County and further investigation and environmental assessment.
The well, when it is developed, has the potential to conflict with Nestlé’s water taking. As noted in the 2007 comments and as confirmed in the Tier 3 RA, there are limits to the available groundwater to satisfy Guelph’s future water supply needs.
As such, future renewals of industrial water takings in the area should be weighed against the broader needs of the community, the potential risk that available supply may not meet future demand and that the continued water takings may not be sustainable without proper management of the resource.
At this point in time, the Nestlé permit to take water does not conflict with Guelph’s water supply. However, recent City studies and projects point to a need to develop comprehensive water resource management plans to sustain and protect the City’s water supply sources. Steps are underway, through the Clean Water Act and the City’s Source Protection Program to protect water quantity and quality and to ensure that the City and other water takers have a sustainable water supply in the future.