Ritchot to probe for new water sources

·4 min read

The initial results of a Ritchot water supply study are in and the message is clear: to prepare for the municipality’s future, action needs to be taken right now.

Landmark Planning and Design Inc. (LP&DI) is the Winnipeg-based company hired by Ritchot’s council to perform the study alongside Friesen Drillers of Steinbach. The goal was to determine the sustainability of Ritchot’s current water resources and, if necessary, locate new well sites in order to support the municipality’s future needs.

“The RM will need to consider looking for an alternative water supply as one of its priorities in order to sustain the viability of the community,” the study states.

A number of factors led LP&DI to this conclusion, not the least of which is the rapid population growth experienced by the RM over the past 20 years. Data derived from the most recent census indicates that Ritchot saw a 22 percent increase in population between 2001 to 2016. Comparatively, Manitoba averaged 5.8 percent growth while the country as a whole averaged only five percent during the same period.

According to data collected by the RM, that upwards trend appears to be continuing. Since 2013, building permit requests have been on a steady incline for both residential and commercial builds.

If council is to continue to sell the municipality as a place for new families to put down roots and for commercial and industrial business to thrive, it will be of prime importance to guarantee a strong and reliable water supply.

Existing Water Supply

For decades, Ritchot’s water has been sourced from two separate well fields. From these locations, it is piped to the water treatment plant and distributed throughout the municipality.

One of the well fields is located in the agricultural district of Randolph, located a few kilometers south of New Bothwell. The well field was originally created as a means to release groundwater pressure in order to prevent the hydraulic rupture of one of the RM of Hanover’s major drainage conduits, the Manning Canal. The excess flow from the well field was subsequently directed toward the Red River where it was discharged, unused.

Some time after, the RM of Ritchot made a bid to collect that water for their own use rather than have it go to waste. There are no pumps at the Randolph site and water is ejected by natural pressure.

A second well field was later established to supplement the Randolph well field, which was experiencing a gradual decrease in groundwater pressure. The second well field is located in the southeast corner of the municipality, next to Highway 305. This site uses pumps to extract water.

“The aquifer [from which the Randolph well field draws water] is constantly recharging with rainwater and snowmelt,” says Donovan Toews of LP&DI. “If used sustainably, the aquifer can be tapped indefinitely and never run out. That said, we do not yet know what a sustainable rate of pumping for this location is. That’s why we need to carry out the planned testing.”

Fresh vs. Saline Groundwater

The next stage of the study was to identify the best possible areas in which a new water source may be found. For LP&DI, this means having some expertise in hydrogeology, the study of groundwater and the subsurface aquifers that contain it.

With some minor exceptions, most of the water in the aquifer beneath Ritchot is of a high saline (salt) content, making it unfit for human consumption. In areas east of Ritchot, freshwater can be found in much greater abundance.

In Manitoba, it is not uncommon for municipalities to be serviced by water sources outside of their region. The province has the ultimate authority over groundwater, however, and a special permit must be obtained before drilling and testing can begin.

The initial study area selected by the project team at LP&DI is a large section surrounding the current Randolph well field.

Since January of this year, LP&DI have been involved in a well inventory program which lays out a map of the existing wells in this area and seeks to determine how they would be affected by the drilling of an additional well.

The team met with individual landowners in the area to get an idea of the quantity and quality of their water source. Thirty existing wells were identified and 21 landowners were interviewed. These stakeholders will be consulted throughout the process.

According to Toews, the landowners who participated in the program were, for the most part, engaged in the process and positive in their feedback.

“The program is important so that both the well owner and the municipality understand current conditions and to help avoid the possibility of future conflicts related to water supply,” Toews says.

In the coming weeks, Friesen Drillers will begin drilling a number of test wells in a variety of locations and will monitor the results carefully for capacity, flow rates, and impact on neighboring wells.

“Following this testing, all monitoring data will be reviewed and compared against decades of historical data, and once that assessment is complete we will return to the community to share the results of the assessment,” Toews concludes.

Toews expects the process to be complete in four to six months.

Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen

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