Ontario Study Debunks Water Worries
Dennis says it’s easy to understand why citizens would be “quite concerned” about water supplies, whether they are for drinking water, groundwater, lakes, or wetlands. Understanding that perception — though not always factual — is important, he says, “because [the perceptions] are real to them.” This makes their concerns legitimate, he says, therefore, they need to be addressed.
Although the practice of extracting aggregates is considered low-risk land use in terms of groundwater contamination, there is growing concern about the possible impact of aggregate extraction on the long-term vulnerability of underlying aquifers to contamination, according to the executive summary of The Effect of Aggregate Extraction on Groundwater Quality. According to the summary, this is based on the perception that the removal of aggregate — and its associated contaminant filtration capacity — poses a significant threat to groundwater quality.
The initiation of source water protection under Ontario’s Clean Water Act in 2006 brought renewed attention to the compatibility of various land uses with public drinking water supplies, according to Dennis. That same year, the MNR published a worldwide review of literature containing national and global evidence that aggregate operations don’t compromise water supplies.
“The results were good news for our industry,” Dennis says. “The MNR then asked for scientific studies to confirm those results. These studies did just that.”
Studies such as these are obviously a “great service for aggregate operators everywhere,” he says, adding that it’s important to share the findings. “Our responsibility as good neighbors and fellow citizens is to do as much as we can to help them understand that our existence and theirs is quite compatible,” Dennis continues. “One study will rarely be enough to appease a concerned community. Two might not be, either. But when we can pile study after study on a table at a public meeting, the majority of those residents should receive some peace of mind about how aggregate operations will not affect their families.”
When asked for OSSGA member comments on what the study’s findings mean for their operations, Dennis noted that OSSGA members “were very pleased” to hear the summary of the reports. However, because only an executive summary of the report was released on Nov. 9 — the full report will be formally released at an unspecified later date — Dennis said it’s not appropriate for members to comment on how they will use the findings going forward.
Methodology and Case Study Site Collection
The case studies presented in the report were based on a desktop data collection, the review and analysis of information and data made available by municipal agencies, regulatory sources, and aggregate sites. Two questionnaire surveys were conducted to collect site-specific information and data relevant to the 21 land-use activities by the Ministry of the Environment’s Clean Water Act, 2006, as Drinking Water Threats for Source Water Protection. Of the 5,951 aggregate sites recorded in Ontario, only 57 were located in vulnerable well-head protection areas.
The final five case studies selected for the report were selected based on the vulnerability of municipal wells and proximity to municipal wells. Sites were ranked through the developed priority criteria.
The final five case studies selected for the report were based on the developed screening criteria, municipal data, and feedback from the aggregate producer.