Saving Sutton's water supply a key election issue for the Quebec town

·4 min read
Four candidates are vying to become mayor of Sutton, Que. (Franca G. Mignacca/CBC - image credit)
Four candidates are vying to become mayor of Sutton, Que. (Franca G. Mignacca/CBC - image credit)

Access to water is on voters' mind in Sutton, Que., this municipal election. The town, which is about 110 kilometres southeast of Montreal, has had many issues with its water supply over the years.

Residents are hoping their next mayor will find solutions to the problem.

"There is really not enough water right now," said resident Johanna Ryffel. "You walk by every stream, and the stream beds are almost dry."

The situation was especially bad this year because of low precipitation and an increase in the population. The city issued boil water advisories three times over the summer, and it had to close a popular water spring for more than a month in the fall.

The local ski hill, which has its own water reservoir, also had issues with water supply.

Now Sutton's four mayoral candidates are putting forward their own solutions to tackle the issue, in what is the largest race for mayor the town has seen in at least nine years.

Ryffel, who has lived in Sutton for 38 years, said she was happy to have such a big pool of candidates to choose from. To win her vote, a candidate has to be committed to protecting the environment.

"I know we have three reservoirs on the mountain, but we can't go on just building and building and building and using up all the resources," she said. "That's my main concern."

Candidates call for studies, limits on construction

Franca G. Mignacca/CBC
Franca G. Mignacca/CBC

Incumbent mayor Michel Lafrance said that he is aware of the problem and has been looking into solutions.

"We have done some studies, we have some numbers, but we have to make sure we have the proper decision," he said, noting that he would need to study any future developments on the mountain more closely.

Lafrance explained that he was especially concerned about preserving the area's groundwater, which is an important source of water for Sutton.

"We have to make sure that we protect that resource and that we don't overdraw it, taking into consideration climate change," he said.

Candidate Louis Dandenault, who was the town's mayor from 2013 to 2017, also said he was concerned about the issue. He is running again, after losing to Lafrance in the last election.

Franca G. Mignacca/CBC
Franca G. Mignacca/CBC

Dandenault said he would tackle the problem by making it mandatory for anyone who wants to build a new property to conduct studies on the impact of construction on the town's water supply.

"It's important to work with professionals that know what they're talking about," he said, adding he would hire engineers to conduct studies on water availability.

But for Robert Benoît, who is running with the municipal party Action Sutton, what Dandenault and Lafrance are proposing is not enough.

He and other citizens took Dandenault to court in 2015 over an attempt to rezone parts of Sutton's mountain district, saying the move would harm the environment.

He said a key reason why he decided to run for mayor was that he felt more needed to be done to protect the city's water supply and green spaces.

Franca G. Mignacca/CBC
Franca G. Mignacca/CBC

Benoît is proposing to limit or put on hold future real estate projects on the mountain, saying that it was irresponsible to deliver hundreds of new building permits when the city was already struggling to meet the demand for water.

"With climate change, there's less water in the streams that get the water into the reservoirs up in the mountain," he said. "We need to look carefully into that."

Newcomer candidate Éric Peissard is offering a similar solution to Benoît's.

"The problem is that we keep building and building some more condos," he said. He proposes putting construction projects on hold until the city knows exactly how much water is available and could make informed decisions.

Franca G. Mignacca
Franca G. Mignacca

Peissard said one way of dealing with the issue of affordable housing without building new units is to crack down on Airbnb rentals. He said people couldn't find places to live because so many homes that could be available were being rented on Airbnb instead.

"We have a short-term rental policy here in Sutton which is not very well followed at all, and you know we need to do something with that," he said.

Which mayoral candidate gets to implement their plan to preserve the town's water will be determined on Nov. 7, when Sutton residents head to the polls.

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