Save Our Water and Wellington Water Watchers put forth comments on Nestle Waters Short Term Pumping Test

REGISTRY # 012-4935

This submission is from Save Our Water and Wellington Water Watchers.  As residents concerned about the water issue in our area we are writing to submit our concerns about this application for a Permit to Take Water to conduct a pump test at the Middlebrook Well.

Our comments are both technical and general, and on the weight of these concerns and unknowns we believe the permit should be denied or deferred.  We are asking that the pump test be delayed until the new, improved policies are in place and, if the permit is granted, we are asking for specific conditions.   The first section documents our concerns and recommendations.  The second documents the conditions we would like to see applied, should the application for pump test be approved.

Concerns and Recommendations

1. The application lacks detailed information and includes potentially misleading supporting documentation.

The application does not include background hydrological studies or other relevant published reports. The one item of supporting documentation is the report from the previous pump test prepared by Gartner Lee in 2005. This document is titled “Long Term Source Sustainability Study.” The Gartner Lee report contains outdated information and, in the context of the application, includes potentially misleading information.

  1. We would like the application evaluator to be aware that according to well records this well has not taken more than 10% of its permitted amount and in fact in most years has taken less than 1% of its permitted amount. Therefore this document is not an indication of long-term source sustainability.
  2. The Gartner Lee report concludes that the municipal well E4, 900 m away from the Middlebrook well, is drawing from the Guelph Aquifer, and so would not likely be impacted by the permitted water taking (11). To support this, it refers to a graph (10) which shows this well with a depth of 289m ASL. However, current township documentation about E4 is that this well has a depth of 128m and it is drilled from 390m ASL, and so has a depth of 262m ASL. This is a substantial difference. By comparison, the Middlebrook well has a depth of 259m ASL. It is therefore now accepted information that the E4 well is drawing from the same Gasport Formation as the Middlebrook well, and possibly from the same aquifer.
  3. The Summary of the Lee report states that there were no impacted wells. However, the full report includes the information that well W2, 600 metres away, showed a clearly measurable influence (14).
  4. The Gartner Lee report states that during the previous test there were several major rain events, so influences from the pumping in monitored wells were not reliably measured.

 

2. Well monitoring of identified wells will not provide valid evidence of impacts or risks

  1. Because the Gasport Aquifer is a confined aquifer, negative impacts from pumping could occur undetermined distances away from the test pump well. This particular well, with an artesian head 15 m above ground surface, has such pressure that negative impacts on private wells and wetlands could be experienced a great distance from the well especially when flow is continuous. This means that the monitored wells within the designated radius will not provide accurate scientific representation of the impacts from drawing water from the Middlebrook well on wells, wetlands or ecological features. We believe that much of the information that will be gathered will provide a very small window of data and not reliably reflect the many dimensions of the related hydrogeology.
  2. The zone for well-monitoring should be reconsidered. Wells affected by previous tests should be monitored in this one.  These would include, at least, Well W6 and Well W9.   Well W6 had serious impacts with the 2001 pump test (see attached document). With the current application this well is just outside the zone for well monitoring in Fig. 4.  The owner of well W9 (Fig. 4) on Middlebook Road reported drawdown at his well during the 2004 test, yet although this was reported to staff it remained officially undocumented, since his well was not monitored (see Lee, 12).  This well is also just outside the boundary for wells to be monitored.
  3. There are currently more than 150 private wells within the Elora/Salem town boundary (in Salem itself, in Lot 18, Erb St., Aqua St., County Road 7 and wells within Elora proper belonging to residents who are not part of the municipal system). The potential impact on all of these private wells cannot be assessed by the applicant’s well monitoring plan, and the wells are not included in any water budgeting reports.RECOMMENDATION: Some well protection plan and also a contingency plan regarding protection of wells should be in place BEFORE the test, if this goes ahead, in the event of unanticipated effects.
  4. The applicant’s decisions about which wells will be monitored have not always been based on science. We offer one example: a resident on County Rd. 7 several kilometers north of Salem was informed in October that her private well was far outside the bounds of the pump test and would not be monitored. The project manager assured her that a negative effect on her well would not occur as far away as this.  Public concern began to grow about this proposed test, and at the end of October the applicant’s representative Ms. Simard with project manager John Piersol suddenly now offered to monitor this well, and offered to monitor it without knowing the exact situation of the property and without seeing well records which were not available, and so without knowledge of this well’s depth.  We are concerned that some well-monitoring decisions were motivated by political rather than scientific reasons.

3. The pump test will not produce sufficient evidence of sustainability or water security

    1. The aquifer at this depth has not been mapped. Its extent and zone of influence are not known. A flaw with this pump test proposal is that currently no geological or hydrological models exist to represent the aquifer and for the pump test data from monitored wells to be plugged into. This is common knowledge and also acknowledged by the applicant.This pump test is being relied upon to provide data necessary to develop models in order that these can be used to extrapolate future impacts on homeowners’ wells, on municipal wells and on wetlands.  Since there is currently no high quality information about this aquifer and others in the Salem area and the areas north and south of the well, aquifer models would have to be developed from the data collected from monitored wells. The test protocol will not provide this information since there are too few known wells that reach into the deeper aquifer, and therefore the modeling data needed for accuracy will be lacking.RECOMMENDATION: The test should be denied or delayed until such time as high quality information exists about the aquifer.
    2. The proposed pump test period may not produce reliable data It is uncertain whether an adequate period has been proposed for this pumping test to establish equilibrium conditions in water level in the well and in the aquifer affected by pumping, and also in the water quality being pumped from the well.RECOMMENDATION The test should include a two week pre- and post-test monitoring protocol to establish baseline data and return to equilibrium. Further, this test should be done at the driest time possible. With serious rain events and already high water levels test results would not be reliable.
    3. It is questionable whether this proposed pump test will properly simulate the effects of continuous flow from this well if it were to go into production at the current rate of 1.6M litres per day. Although the Eramosa Formation appears to act as an aquitard, with low permeability, in the immediate position of this well, just 500 metres away at the Ontario Geological Survey well (DDH-05) the Eramosa layer has cracks and fissures. The 14 or 30 days of pumping is not adequate to establish changes in water quality from seepage into this aquifer from connecting areas, or from changes in the flow or direction of the water.

4. The pump test as currently designed is not sufficient to establish whether continuous pumping could affect the ecology of the area

  1. The pump test as it is proposed needs to be refined to take into account currently existing and more-detailed data about the flow of surface water and groundwater in the region around the Middlebrook well. A wetland ecological assessment of changes in natural conditions and impacts resulting from the test will not be able to be reliably done at the time of the test which will be mid-winter. At least one of these wetlands is designated as provincially significant. New tools now exist for evaluating the ecological impacts of water-takings. Are these tools going to be used with this application in order to use best practices? Can they be used in mid-winter?
  2. This test is not adequate to identify eventual reduction of base flow to the Grand River. This well is only 100 metres away from the Grand River, a designated National Heritage River. The well’s recharge area is unknown, and given the confined nature of this aquifer this recharge area could be far from the wetlands that are being monitored during this test. Yet the entire area is in the Grand River catchment area, with feeder steams to the river. Ontario’s low water level report identifies this watershed as an area of Ontario vulnerable to low water conditions. The Grand River Conservation Authority Low Water Response document (2015) states that sections of the river have experienced very low flowrates over the past number of years because of an inadequate amount of water running into it from creeks and streams. One section with below-target water levels is the area through the Elora Gorge where the Middlebrook well is located.

5. Stabilization of water levels over a test period is not an indication of long-term sustainability

  1. Any impact on a municipal well would be an unacceptable risk. The Middlebrook well is 900 m from the municipal well E4. It is not reasonable to permit a pump test at a well this close to a municipal well drawing from the same Gasport Formation. Fig. 1 shows that the 2 year time of travel zone for well E4 is just within the 0.5 km radius of the Middlebrook well. Will a 14-day pump test conclusively determine any potential impact at E4 if the 2 year time of travel is only 0.5 km from Middlebrook?[1]
    Figure 1 Township wells and Middlebrook 0.5k radius
  2. Well E4 is permitted to take 1.2 million litres per day. It currently takes only 223,000 litres per day; however, significant urban growth is scheduled under the Places to Grow Act. It is prudent for the municipality to have the permitted amount secure in the event that one of the other municipal wells has to be taken off-line for maintenance or another reason.The seriousness of this risk to municipal water needs to be considered. At Nestle’s  Aberfoyle plant, water tables have dropped and, as a result, wells have been shut down (reported by Minister of Environment Glen Murray in the legislature Oct. 7).  This dramatic effect on the water table was not anticipated when the permit was granted.  Regarding the permit proposal in Centre Wellington, Glen Murray says: “protecting municipal water supplies is much more complex [in Ontario]. Our water-permitting process works on the volume of water being extracted, which provides some protection but not sufficient. That’s the limitation we’re working with and trying to find better solutions to.” (Legislative Assembly of Ontario, October 7, 2015, pages 5674-5)RECOMMENDATION: If the test goes ahead the E4 well should be off-line for the first half of the test and on-line at full capacity for the second half to determine impacts under both conditions.
  3. Cumulative effects of water taking are unknown. According to the Permit to Take Water Manual, the MOECC takes seriously the cumulative impacts of water taking, and so the evaluation of this proposal must recognize cumulative impacts. The Ministry of Environment of Ontario added “Climate Change” to its name and we welcome this. However, climate change and its effects are not taken into consideration when evaluating an application for a pump test.  Drought periods are lasting longer and having greater severity than historical norms.  Ontario  experienced such a severe drought in 2012 that the province was operating under level 3 drought conditions; yet that was never officially declared. Ontario’s Low Water Response (OLWR) has been ineffective in declaring level 3 droughts even when evidence has insisted that it be.  (See Gord Miller’s statement to support this statement.  “When a drought hits a region, time is of the essence,” Miller reported. “Both programs lack key elements to protect our lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers.” https://youtu.be/3WZn96O1XEU). This pump test is outdated in design as it lacks the ability to simulate effects from climate change.

6. The pump test poses contamination risk

    1. The Middlebrook well is in a zone of permeable layers where bedrock is located near the surface, and is identified as highly vulnerable to contaminants entering the subsurface environment. This is confirmed in several Township documents including Township of Centre Wellington Groundwater Management and Protection Plan, (Summary 7-8; Fig. ES9). This contamination risk, also documented in 2008 federal and provincial environmental assessments prompted the municipality to reject this location as a site for a new municipal well (Comprehensive Study Report – Upgrading of the Elora Well System, 2008, section 3.4.5, 18). There are documented contamination issues with this zone. Across the road from the well, a GRCA well was contaminated with nitrates (this is documented in Appendix). Did other GRCA wells have contamination? Although the GRCA well is now sealed, the contamination remains in the groundwater and can still migrate. Will this test address this issue? With this proximity and vulnerability to contamination, is it reasonable to permit a pump test that could cause contamination to be drawn into the deep aquifer?RECOMMENDATION: Contamination risk should be assessed before the test is permitted, and water tested for nitrates throughout the test at this well and at nearby wells and monitoring sites.
    2. Information concerning additional wells on the Middlebrook property (5 acres) is entirely missing from the submitted documentation. There are three or four wells on the property yet only one is documented in the application. An early well (AO11113) is 210 feet deep. Prior to the drilling of the 360 foot deep 1984 well (6707936), which is the well now under consideration, is a 1969 well (6703491) also 360 feet deep, drilled to the same depth and into the same aquifer. According to the previous owner, the casing of the 1969 well was deteriorating in 1984.The concern is that this 1969 well, unused for over 20 years, may provide a shortcut from the surface to the aquifer, a transport pathway facilitating contaminants moving to the deep aquifer, breaching the Eramosa formation between the Guelph and Gasport aquifers, acting as a conduit and increasing the risk for groundwater contamination very close to the 1984 well. This 1969 well should be thoroughly assessed before testing begins. Questions to ask about this 1969 well are: was it decommissioned? Was it sealed or abandoned? What state is it in? Has it deteriorated? Will the pressures of pumping at the well under consideration cause further deterioration of the 1969 well? What would the risks be? Is the MOECC aware of this and of other wells on the site?

    7. The pump test poses a risk to area’s ecology
    For this test, Nestle will be pumping 1.6 million litres of water a day for 14 to 30 days or longer if required, and the discharged water will be piped into Cascade Creek just prior to its falling into the Gorge at a section of the Grand River noted for its brown trout habitat. We do not know what potential damage this water, discharged suddenly into the creek or river will do to fish habitat, to spawning areas, to overwintering fish and reptiles and to the river ecosystem in general.

    The water from 360 feet below ground and under pressure will be hard water, oxygen-depleted and rich in minerals. RECOMMENDATION: Considering this important fish habitat, the MNR should be consulted on this question. Further, if the test is permitted, some form of insurance should be in place to pay for any damage or rehabilitation that needs to take place as a result of the test. This condition should be imposed if the pump test goes forward.

    8. The proposed water-taking may conflict with future municipal water needs

    1. The Grand River Source Protection Plan, 2015, states that Fergus/Elora in the Township of Centre Wellington requires a Tier 3 Water Quantity Risk Assessment (Grand River Source Protection Plan, 2015, Executive Summary 3.) Specifically, it states, “Groundwater supplies in the area are critical for the communities of Fergus and Elora in Centre Wellington. Further calibration and conceptualization would be beneficial to better understand the regional groundwater system with respect to those communities and validate the model’s predictions of groundwater discharge in the area” (Grand River Source Protection Plan, 2015, ES 3-35-6.) This document identifies the area of the Central Grand as Moderate Stress, and states that subwatersheds with moderate potential for stress and a municipal drinking water system are recommended to have a Tier 3 Assessment conducted, stating that “additional information is required to understand local water supply sustainability and potential cumulative impacts of water withdrawals”(ES 3-47).The report above does not take into account new future planned growth projections or large scale water taking. As one of Ontario’s Places to Grow, the TCW is slated to increase about 40% in the next fifteen years (from 27,290 to 41,350 by 2031).
    2. Currently, the planned future water supply source for Elora/Salem, as designated in the Township of Centre Wellington’s Official Plan, lies directly in the anticipated flow path of the Middlebrook well aquifer. (See Township of Centre Wellington Municipal Official Plan, Schedule C, Groundwater Management Plan.) Published reports about local water security have not considered the planned rapid growth under the Places to Grow Act. The unknown variable here is how the long-term growth projections for the community will unfold, where that development will occur geographically and what the resulting water infrastructure requirements will be.RECOMMENDATION: A thorough Water Supply Master Plan and a Tier 3 Assessment should precede any pump test for proposed water-taking. It is premature to consider this test until the effects of Nestlé’s proposal can be evaluated. Save Our Water and Wellington Water Watchers are advocating for a three-year moratorium on consumptive water-taking permits for the purpose of bottling in the Grand River Watershed, to provide communities the opportunity to complete these studies.

    9. First Nations must be consulted
    The evaluator should recognize that the land on which the well is situated, 100 m from the Grand River, is part of the Haldimand Tract and the Haudenosaunee First Nations have constitutionally protected rights in this area. First Nations must be consulted about this project.

    10. A pump test for the purpose of facilitating the dispossession of a public resource represents an egregious failure of the Ministry’s responsibility to the public
    A PTTW, if granted based on this pump test’s results, will induce the dispossession of a public resource since this water will be 100% removed from the local ecosystem and exported worldwide.

    Conditions for pump test if approved

      1. Transparency of Process

    We would like it to be noted that the pump test methodology has been changing week by week.  Technical details of the test were not provided with the application, and these were released to the municipality a full four weeks after the application was posted. As plans changed, the public received conflicting and confusing information.

    Furthermore, there was no process for public information regarding the 2004 pump test. Because the public was unaware that this test had occurred until the current proposal for the well application came to light, accounts of wells with unexplainable impacts ten years ago remain anecdotal.

    For these reasons, we request that the Ministry assert the following conditions to ensure the transparency of process throughout:

        1. If this pump test is approved, Nestlé Waters should be required to put a large and highly visible notice in the newspapers for several weeks to inform residents of the date of the test and provide contact information, in order that they can report any unexpected change in water level in their wells occurring at that time. These reports should be investigated and officially noted.
        2. In order to assess test results, Save Our Water and Wellington Water Watchers request a commitment from Nestlé for transparent data collection, with the results of the monitoring made available for public review at the same time the data is presented to Nestlé, the MOECC and the Township of Centre Wellington. Nestlé should also provide for an independent third-party assessment of the test results.

      2. Protection Planning

          1. A general Protection Plan should be in place BEFORE the test to deal with private wells that may be impacted as a result of the test. This must include any and all wells in the wider area and not just the wells monitored.
          2. Some form of insurance should be in place to pay for any damage or rehabilitation to fish habitat that needs to take place as a result of the test.

      3. Improved test process

          1. The municipal E4 well should be off-line for the first half of the test and on-line at full capacity for the second half.
          2. The test should include a two week pre- and post-test well-monitoring protocol to establish baseline data and return to equilibrium.
          3. All the water-level measurements should be made by continuous-in-time recording
          4. This test should be done at the driest time possible. With serious rain events and already high water levels test results would not be reliable.
          5. Contamination risks should be assessed before the test is permitted.
          6. Nitrates should be tested for throughout the test at this well and also at all nearby wells and monitoring sites.

      Conclusion

      Nestle’s application for a pump test comes at a time when the policies related to water permits are themselves in question.  In the Legislature on October 7, Environment Minister Glen Murray stated that there were limitations in the water-permitting process in providing protection to municipal water supplies.  He announced a new provincial water policy related to 100% consumptive water-taking permits within six months. Reports from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) over several years, and including the annual report released Nov. 3, 2015, have identified flaws in water-permitting decisions and made recommendations to the MOECC for changes to the permit process. This itself should be reason to delay processing this application for pump test.

    1. The Municipality is one of Ontario’s Places to Grow. The test should be denied, or delayed until the municipality has completed the Tier 3 Assessments and the municipal water planning required to ensure its water security for the future.
    2. As we have documented here, we do not consider this one test and its results sufficient to enable a PTTW to be submitted.  All stakeholders, including the applicant, have agreed that very little is known about this well and its connectivity to the aquifer and beyond.  If this pump test is allowed to proceed it should not be the only source of evidence.  Additional assessments and more knowledge are needed to ascertain whether the proposed water taking is safe and sustainable, and not in conflict with the municipality’s future water needs.
    3. Finally, this pump test is the first step in a process which may result in a PTTW for 100% consumptive use.  If the pump test is permitted, and if the evidence it produces is considered reliable and sufficient, it will facilitate a PTTW with environmental implications (avoidable emissions, water removal, solid waste inducement), and water security implications. It will facilitate the dispossession of a public resource.  Given these implications, any test would have to illustrate with complete certainty that no adverse effects, and no net water loss, would result if a PTTW were granted.  It is clear one pump test cannot accomplish these goals.
    4. Submitted by:Mike Nagy
      On behalf of Wellington Water Watchers
      10 Carden St. #2, Guelph, ON N1H 3A2
      519-780-5030

      Jan Beveridge
      On behalf of concerned residents known as Save Our Water
      101 Chalmers St., Elora, ON N0B 1S0

      [1] This map is comprised of the Township of Centre Wellington Sourcewater Map, superimposed with the map of the Middlebrook well’s circle of 1 km study zone from the applicant’s Open House poster board.