Wednesday, April 17, 2019


David Bethune wrote an article chastising the Region of Waterloo (ROW) back in the mid 1990s. He suggested that up until the time of the Elmira Water Crisis, Waterloo Region was the largest community in Canada dependent on groundwater which did not have a full time hydrogeologist on staff. At a later date, likely under professional pressure, Mr. Bethune moderated his comments somewhat, giving the ROW credit for the serious efforts they had made since the Water Crisis.

The reality is that by long before 1990 Waterloo Region's groundwater had been irreparably damaged by local industries. The Grand River had been used as an open sewer by rubber industries, chemical industries, tanneries, textiles, furniture manufacturers and so much more. Agriculture routinely grazed their cattle on the floodplains of the Nith, Conestogo, the Grand and all the smaller tributaries adding bacteria and protozoa (remember cryptosporidium?) along with nitrates and nitrites into both ground and surface water. It has gotten better for which the ROW, sometimes with various politicians kicking and screaming in protest, has to be given credit.

Nevertheless it was too little too late. Our tap water is highly chlorinated whether from chlorine directly or via chloramine. Our water treatment costs increase dramatically every year due to ongoing problems with nitrates, nitrites, chloride, sodium, TCE (trichloroethylene) a DNAPL (dense non-aqueous phase liquid) chemical. Also of course and despite water conservation efforts we have more people and more demand every single year. I have in the past suggested that the ROW often play musical wells by shutting down some wells as contaminant plumes approach and starting up others. With ever increasing people and demand exactly how long can that continue? I would suggest that the one saving grace for the ROW and their primarily groundwater based water system is the death of local manufacturing which used massive amounts of water in their processing. This painful switch in employment for many has extended the life of groundwater usuage here.

Wilmot Township to the west is blessed with nitrate/nitrite issues in their groundwater. Road salt is one of the sources of both chlorides and sodium throughout the ROW although industrial contamination also raises those levels. TCE is the gift that seems to keep on giving forever whether at the William St. wellfield in Waterloo, the Parkway wellfield in Kitchener or the Middleton and Elgin wellfields in Cambridge. Petroleum hydrocarbons are present both from industry as well as from leaking underground tanks at service stations throughout the ROW. Bacteria of course still thrive in the Grand River as well as most surface waters although again the ROW have attempted to persuade farmers to reduce cattle grazing and watering directly in the local rivers.

I believe that overall our groundwater is pooched as I described somewhat yesterday. The will has been slowly growing to actually get serious enforcement of all the rules and regulations protecting our water sources. Unfortunately politicians generally are NOT environmentalists no matter what they publicly profess. It's still all about the money and the people who have benefited from cheap to free disposal of their business wastes at the expense of both the public and the environment prefer that situation to continue. Or quoting Dr. Richard Jackson "It's not a technical issue it's a public policy issue."

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