Three years ago, Erin Archer told local residents that renewing a permit to take water from the Teedon Pit was an open and shut case.
"It is the world's purest water after all," she said believing officials would move to protect the water at the Tiny Township aggregate quarry.
So imagine her surprise when she learned last week that the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) had renewed the water to take permit for CRH Canada Group Inc.
"There are several wells experiencing quantity and quality issues," said Archer, who lives in Tiny Township. "The aquifer becomes more and more vulnerable as the layers above it get peeled back. In Tiny Township, (there is) not much protection for drinking water sources as approximately 80% of households are on a well.
"The water speaks to me; I know her to be a living entity. I can't stand by and watch how she is being abused, without acting."
The action Archer is taking has many layers.
She has already contacted her township's mayor and deputy mayor to express her concerns around the issue and she will be mobilizing supporter through her Facebook group The Friends of the Waverley Uplands.
Then, Archer said, she will be watching Tuesday's special council meeting, which has an open session at the beginning to discuss the township's response to this issue.
Coun. Tony Mintoff, who brought it up at a recent council meeting, told MidlandToday he would be willing to provide clarification after that meeting.
"Quite frankly, I’m rather shocked as the host municipality on this business venture we weren’t copied on," he said at the meeting. "We’ve taken the position quite some time now that we have some fundamental principles to be adopted, a water study that needs to be taken into consideration. Having said that and having said we disagree with any issuance of licensing, it follows that we should be initiating an appeal of the decision."
Even though Mintoff wouldn't discuss the issue before the special council meeting, plenty others were ready to talk.
Judith Grant and Lynne Archibald, members of Federation of Tiny Township Shoreline Associations (FoTTSA), were more than willing to share background on the issue and talk about next steps residents could take.
"The company that owned the well and the pond and the pit had a 10-year permit to take water, which ended in 2018," said Grant, who is past president of FoTTSA. "It wasn't a concern until 2009 when they suddenly increased the amount of gravel they were taking and their water use. Before that, they didn't need to wash gravel because they weren't taking much."
The company was allowed to take 6.5 million litres a day, she said.
In 2009, when the county's proposal for dump site 41 was defeated, the pit owners decided to up the amount of gravel they were taking, consequently increasing their use of water, said Grant, who noted residents living near the quarry are worried about their wells' water quality.
A hydrogeologic study included in CRH's 2018 renewal application answers Grant's concerns.
The aggregate company's consultant's hydrogeologic assessment concluded that the silt in the domestic wells and the reduced water supply is not due to the operations at Teedon Pit.
"The distance of these domestic wells from the Teedon Pit and their shallow nature preclude Teedon Pit from being the cause of silt in the water supply," reads the report. "The shallow aquifer contains a significant amount of silt."
The provincial ministry concurred with this assessment, adding that poor well maintenance and/or construction may be the cause for the presence of silt in the domestic wells.
When the renewal application came up in 2018, the township hired a consultant to complete a study.
But matters escalated to the point of litigation. The township has held a number of in-camera meetings since then to discuss the issue.
"At the end of February, there's another LPAT (Local Planning Appeal Tribunal) meeting of the three parties: the township, FoTTSA and CRH," said Grant. "The ministry has been dragging its feet on this. We've been doing this since 2019 and we still haven't gotten to a hearing."
The renewed permit lists one Springwater and two Tiny hamlets, which contain the wells from which CRH is permitted to extract tonnes of water annually.
"At the Teedon Pit, water from the on-site pond (referred to as a wash pond) is used for washing the aggregate, and separating silt and sand from coarser material," reads the permit renewal decision. "The water that is used is sent to two settling ponds where the silt and sand settle to the bottom. Water from the settling ponds is directed back to the Wash Pond for reuse. The water level within the Wash Pond is topped up as needed from the on-site Production Well."
The amount allowed from the well is
The permit details also mention the thousands of comments (5,246) received, as well as the ministry's response to those concerns, such as that of the impact of the washing operations on the aquifer.
"Teedon Pit will only use water with no additives in their washing process," reads the explanation. "The silt and sand contained in the used wash water settles to the bottom of the settling ponds. Any water that infiltrates into the ground at the bottom of the ponds is filtered, much like rain water. Therefore, the ministry is satisfied that the operation is unlikely to adversely impact the groundwater quality."
Archibald said residents, however, are not satisfied.
"All our water comes from groundwater, wherever you are," she said. "The problem is, once it gets to the point when all our water is contaminated, good luck trying to uncontaminate it."
In addition, Archibald said, she can't understand why the township wasn't informed of the renewal.
Archibald, who noted FoTTSA plans on fighting this decision. said more public action may be required to make an actual change.
"There's unanimous concern for the water and people are working together," said Archibald, adding it might require similar action to when citizens gathered in large numbers to oppose Site 41.
Unfortunately, Archibald added, the pandemic prevents large gatherings so the case has to be fought in the courtroom.
"There's a little bit of David and Goliath going on here," she said. "You've got Tiny Township and a mega-corporation like CRH that's based in Europe that has hired high-end lawyers."
Her association, Archibald said, is relying on the pro bono work of the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
But there's still money to be paid to expert witnesses and those who will conduct studies on FoTTSA's behalf.
To raise awareness and funds, the association has set up a website dedicated to the issue.
"The township benefits very little from this operation," Archibald said. "It's not making jobs. It's just environmental damage and not much else."
CRH did not respond to a request for comment before publishing time.
The Tiny Township special council meeting begins at 1 p.m. and will be streamed live on the municipal YouTube channel.
Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com