By Doug Hallett
Non-residential development in Guelph is expected to soon face a new hurdle as the delayed effects of the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton ripple through the province.
All applications for new non-residential development in Guelph will require pre-screening by a risk management official who is to be hired this year. The pre-screening will determine if the proposed development has the potential to be a significant drinking-water threat.
“If the threat cannot be addressed through the implementation of a risk management plan, the application cannot proceed,” says a city staff report that went to council Monday night.
The pre-screening provision means “there will be a new level of approval needed” for all new non-residential development in the city, waterworks manager Peter Busatto said Thursday.
Guelph will be affected more than the vast majority of Ontario communities, because the city is “wholly reliant on groundwater underneath its footstep, so to speak,” Busatto said in an interview.
Neighbouring cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge also rely heavily on groundwater and will be affected by new regulations, he said. The vast majority of Ontario communities rely on other water sources, such as the Great Lakes. They will be less affected by changes being made to comply with a provincial initiative. The initiative was designed to prevent another tragedy like the one in Walkerton. It’s the community where seven people died from drinking water contaminated by E. coli bacteria and about 2,500 became ill in May 2000, out of a population of 5,000.
The source water protection plan for Guelph, created over the past five years as part of a plan for the whole Grand River watershed, went to city council for approval last night.
Busatto said Thursday that last night’s expected council approval of the plan was largely a formality, and the plan was expected to be submitted to the province this month. “Council has already weighed in on the plan at various draft stages, and so has the community,” he said.
Final provincial approval of the plan is expected later this year, and it will then be implemented, he said.
“It certainly will introduce change into the planning process for growth of the city,” he said. All future non-residential development in Guelph “will have to factor in source protection, whereas currently that is not necessarily the case, formally.”
However, Busatto downplayed the effect this might have on future development in Guelph, which is slated to add large numbers of new residents and jobs by 2031 under the province’s Places to Grow legislation.
“We’ve tried to come up with a plan that doesn’t stop or negate development,” he said. The plan aims for growth to continue, “but in a smart way that helps everybody.”
The plan, required by the province’s Clean Water Act, applies to existing “significant” threats to the water supply, as well as any threats from new development.
“If existing businesses are tagged through the process as threats, they will be working with us to develop risk management plans,” Busatto said.
He said his discussions with local businesses have led him to believe they’re onside with the plan.
“They recognize it is in their best interests to protect the water supply . . . They want clean, safe water on a regular basis. They need it for their business processes.”
City hall plans to ask the province to commit ongoing funding to help the city implement the plan. It also wants the province to commit ongoing funding to help small business owners with preparation of risk management plans and any subsequent needed improvements.
However, Busatto said the city has already included some of the anticipated costs in budgets that are already reflected in water rates paid by local residents. This includes the cost of hiring the risk management official, a new position that was included in the waterworks department’s user-pay budget for 2013.
“At this point we believe it is manageable,” he said of the cost to the city of implementing the source water protection plan.
As for the cost to the private sector, he said businesses that are already protecting the city’s water supply shouldn’t face much extra expense.
“If businesses are already following best practices and other required regulatory requirements, we don’t expect they are going to see a big expense in complying with the approved plan,” he said.
Although it’s not expected that homeowners will be affected directly, the city plans to do a lot of outreach and public education to show how residents can help in protecting the city’s water supply.
“We are not considering residential housing as a threat, per se,” Busatto said. “But we all rely on the same groundwater source, and all the activities we engage in on a regular basis need to be filtered through that lens.”
For example, he said, care needs to be exercised in storage and proper disposal of gasoline used by homeowners.
Of the city’s 25 municipal groundwater supply wells, 21 are operable and four are out of service due to naturally occurring or man-made water quality issues, the staff report says. The city also obtains water from the Arkell Spring Grounds collector system, which is supplemented by water from the Eramosa River that goes into an infiltration pond.