Ten years ago the province was asked a question about old quarries and drinking water. Water authorities are still waiting for an answer

·4 min read

WATERLOO REGION — The organization in charge of protecting Waterloo Region’s drinking water has been waiting 10 years for the province to address the risk old aggregate pits and quarries pose to local drinking water.

When an aggregate pit that was operating below the water table is no longer active, ground water can fill up the pit. This body of water acts as a direct conduit between the surface and ground water, according to local experts.

The Lake Erie Region Source Protection Committee is concerned that if these ponds are close to wells taking in ground water for municipal supply, they represent a risk as the ponds are open to any kind of contamination from sources such as bacteria, salt, or fertilizer, and more.

The Lake Erie Region Source Protection Committee is one of 19 watershed organizations designated by the province to protect public drinking water. Waterloo Region is located within the Grand River watershed which is included in the Lake Erie region jurisdiction.

The committee asked the government to add aggregate mining in general to the Clean Water Act in 2010 as part of the act’s list of potential threats. They were told no.

In February 2011, the source committee sent a second, more specific request. They asked that ponding of ground water in old below-water-table aggregate mines be included as a local threat applying solely to the Lake Erie region. The committee feels such ponds could be a direct risk to drinking water if they are located near a public well.

Ten years later, they are still waiting for an answer.

Over the 10 years, the Aggregate Resources Act has undergone multiple adjustments. As well, the provincial government has changed leadership over the decade.

“I think the committee has been patient with recognizing that there’s been a lot of activities at the provincial level with regards to those changes with the Aggregate Resources Act regulations,” says Martin Keller, the source protection program manager with the Grand River Conservation Authority.

“It is something that the committee feels pretty strongly about. They feel that it is something that they would like to get an answer back. In October 2020, the issue of ponding in closed below-water-table aggregate mining pits was still a standing agenda item.”

The committee’s chair, Wendy Wright, made mention of the long-standing agenda item last month. “I just noticed that it’s coming up to 10 years since we made that first request for that information and by the time we get to the next meeting that clock will have ticked over. I can hardly believe it’s been that length of time that this has been on the agenda.”

If ponding in old below-water-table quarries is added as a local threat, the committee can create a plan to address it, request changes in provincial or municipal regulation, and alter activities that relate to ponding if they pose a risk to a source of public drinking water.

The province’s latest update on the issue was delivered in October by its representative, Olga Yudina. She says the ministry was waiting to respond until the updates to Aggregate Resources Act were complete. Now that the changes to the act are complete, Yudina says the province is revisiting the discussion.

Keller says groundwater typically has some sort of protection provided by the land on top of it. But this is not the case with a pond formed in a decommissioned quarry.

“Contamination can get in there, potentially,” says Keller. “It doesn’t mean it has to, but the potential is there and the committee comes from the point of view that those things should be addressed proactively so that things can be prevented or measures can be put in place to minimize impact.”

People should know that “the committee is taking its job seriously and identifying things that they think need to be addressed and looked after,” says Keller.

Keller did not list any specific pits he is concerned about.

Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email lgerber@therecord.com

Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record