Driving tour takes approximately 90 minutes with stopping and reading the story of each well.
Learn some local history. Learn where your water comes from. Enjoy!
Tour starts and ends at the Elora Post Office, Macdonald Square, but can be started at any point.
On June 16, 2018, a group of 30 residents set off on a bus tour of Centre Wellington’s wells, and the following is the text from that tour:
Well, Well, Well, Well, Well, Well, Well, Well! We’re off to visit eight of our fine municipal wells – wells that give us a daily supply of excellent quality water. Did you know that Centre Wellington’s water, the water that comes straight out of our taps, achieved the commendable score of 99.97 on its drinking water report card from the province? Kathleen Wynn once mused, “Why would anyone buy bottled water?” Why indeed? And we intend to keep it among the best.
That`s why we are visiting eight currently active wells. Make that nine – when we add the star of the show. At the last stop, we will find ourselves face to face with The Well that started this whole kerfuffle! It’s the well that has forced us to learn so much about water…to take it seriously…and its fundamental importance to the survival of all living things on Earth. And that well is MIDDLEBROOK! We hope that what we will learn about our municipal water system will both open our eyes and sharpen our resolve to defend the Middlebrook well and all that it represents for our community and for the embracing ecosystem.
But before we set off on our way there are important facts that are critical to any understanding of our water situation; facts that are foundational to a valid argument for preventing Nestle from mining one drop of water from the Middlebrook Well – of which they are now, sad to say, the legal owners. Keeping these basic facts in our minds, as we see and hear the story of each of the wells, will help us to reckon with the compelling imperative to Save Our Water. Especially at this critical time.
First fact. Fergus and Elora have been mandated by the Provincial Government to increase in population by 100% within the next 23 years. That is, by 2041. One hundred percent! Double! Our area was selected for such an accelerated population increase because we have state of the art Wastewater Treatment Facilities. But, here`s the rub. In making this decision no consideration was given to the current availability of drinking water, or for possible sources of clean water sufficient to supply such a dramatic increase in population.
Second fact. Our Water Supply System already – on this very day – faces challenges, which this tour will demonstrate, in spades.
Third fact. Finding suitable sites for new wells is a huge undertaking for any community. It can take at least eight years to get a new well on line. As we shall see, our township has had first hand experience with the difficulty of finding suitable locations.
Fourth fact. The cost of establishing a new well in 2018 is from $7.5 to $10 million, from first site tests till the water finally gets flowing.
Fifth Fact. Municipal wells share the aquifer with over 1000 private wells with which they must not, by the terms of the municipal water permit, interfere.
In the next ninety minutes or so we will see how our current network of municipal wells – five in Fergus , three in Elora – is holding up.
So off we go! We will begin with a visit to the oldest well, referred to as F1.You will find this well on the south side of Queen Street in Fergus, just east of St. David St., behind Groves’ hospital.
But on your route driving eastward from Elora on Mill Street, slow down just a bit and take a gander at a small structure which you have probably passed many times, maybe wondering about its why and wherefore. It is on your left, facing east, just at the road to the O.P.P. Station.
This humble little building is the Aboyne Booster Station, which connects the Fergus and Elora water supplies. And it’s an important part of our system. It was designed to provide a flow to the Wellington Water Tower in the event of a major fire in Elora, but it also facilitates the sharing of water between Fergus and Elora during any other time that might demand a temporary increase of water in either community. The water flows downhill from Fergus to Elora but must be pumped from Elora up to Fergus.
Old Endurable: F1
Here we are at Well F1, on the edge of the beautiful Grand River. Showing its age a bit, but the old stone building declares a special charm of its own. Behind it, notice the old reservoir. There used to be a walking trail behind the reservoir, joining the park that connects to Scotland Street to the east.
The venerable F1 has earned her name, Old Endurable, by continuing to be a reliable, inexhaustible, pumper of water for residents of Fergus since 1935. That’s 83 years, during which she survived many challenges – particularly the devastating flood of 1974, which damaged major parts of the town and which almost wiped out the entire waterworks structure.
F1 grew out of urgent community need coupled with the generosity, compassion and keen business acumen of engaged citizens. Times were tough in ‘the dirty thirties’ when the unemployment rate was high. Large numbers of people left big cities in search of jobs in small towns like Fergus. Town Council provided for a meal a day for transients and offered basic housing during the winter. Some sought refuge at the small local hospital where they were given necessary medications and a bed.
Even in the midst of such hardship, the need for a public water supply could not be ignored. Fire was an enemy lurking everywhere in a town with so many wooden structures. Major fires in both Fergus and Elora in 1930 took their toll, and the task of both preventing and fighting fires drove the need for an effective water system.
In March of 1935 Fergus Town Council agreed to spend $5000 on a new waterworks system. It also authorized the purchase of a new pair of rubber boots for the fireman, and a new pair of blue serge pants for the night watchman who was also the gravedigger! Big doin’s! The Provincial Department of Health authorized Fergus to install a deep well system with the capacity to pump 300 gallons of water per minute, which is the same rate that this well still pumps today. The installation of a system of fire hydrants through the town was included as part of the plan.
The whole project, including the 250,000 gallon capacity reservoir which you can see behind the pump house, ended up costing $6000. This was covered by issuing debentures, through the Bank of Commerce, purchased by wealthier members of the community.
You may have noticed signs on the door, announcing: DANGER CHLORINE GAS
For safety’s sake our drinking water is treated with chlorine at all our well sites.
TCE, or Trichlorethylene, was detected in the water of F1 in 1989. It is suspected that the TCE – an industrial solvent – may have leached from the site of the Beatty Brothers plant, which became, for a time, the Fergus market building across St. David Street. The TCE might also have come from one or more of the other industrial sites that used to border this part of the river, or from the larger GSW plant on Hill St.
In 1990, an ‘air-stripper’ was installed to remove the TCE from the water. You can see the air-stripper cylinder behind the building. This device bubbles air into a chamber filled with water, which releases the TCE into the atmosphere, leaving the well water clean and potable. This constantly-monitored treatment system runs 24/7.
F1 is a high-capacity well and its reservoir can still be used as storage for more than a million litres of water, about 1/3 the capacity of a water tower.
She’s a venerable and ever-important well serving our community admirably for sure! We are grateful to Old Endurable and to the town administrators whose foresight delivered her to us. But it must be acknowledged that the Old Girl, faithful as she is, cannot be expected to increase water availability in the years to come.
Yes, But…Well F5
Continue east on Queen St., turn right on Hillside Drive, then left on Union St. At Scotland St., turn right and find the F5 well house on the left hand side of Scotland, just before reaching the High School.
It would be safe, I think, to nickname F5 the ‘Yes, But ‘ well. So much promise offered, but so much disappointment delivered. Here’s why. At F5’s completion in 1975, Fergus anticipated that the new well would make up for the shortcomings of the other working wells – even Old Endurable, F1. Experience had indicated that in every one of the town’s wells, there was a measurable deterioration of water quality the deeper you drilled and the more water you pumped.
Not so with F5! It seemed that its water quality remained excellent without regard to either of these factors.
But . . . there was one mere ‘nuisance’ concern – though it was at first thought to be a temporary and curable one. Sediment – mostly sand and silt – sullied the water. The sediment was especially evident when the pump was stopped and started again, or when it pumped more than 750 litres per minute, though twice that is the expected normal pumping rate. “Small problem”, said the engineer “a good clean out will fix that. We’ll just treat F5 to a ‘surge’ procedure which will make this well very well indeed!” So they did. But it didn’t.
Surging a well means running it very hard, up to 2,000 litres per minute, while starting and stopping the process, over a period of 8 hours. That’s what they did – but still the sediment in F5 remained excessive. “Longer and harder”, came the next recommendation. But several days of surging failed to bring the desired result. Sediment remained then – and remains to this day, 43 years later.
Although this well produces the best water in town, instead of the anticipated 1500 litres per minute, F5 can be run at no more than 50% of its capacity. If pumping rates exceed that amount sediment gets into the water. The pump is now programmed to operate at a flat rate and to shut down automatically if the water gets down to a fixed level. A good well? Well, Yes, But.
Now we’ll turn around to head back northward on Scotland, turn left onto Belsyde and right on St. David St.
Oh F3, we hardly knew ye!
We will pass the site of well F3. A short, sad story, this one. Perhaps the only thing we can do for F3 is sing a water requiem.
We know very little about this long-gone well; not even the dates of its coming and going. But just at Victoria Park on your left, take a good look. Somewhere at the very south end of the park is the resting place of Fergus well F3. We don’t know this well’s story except that at some point the water became contaminated and the well could not be used any more.
We are learning now, more than ever, how critically important water is to the life of our community, and how complex and intricate the water supply system that brings it to us.
Turn right on Union Street, then left onto Scotland (which becomes Gartshore north of Garafraxa.) When we turn left onto St. Andrews St., look now to your right, on the north side of the street.
Here we find ourselves in front of what seems to be a shy little well, a well that kind of peeks out, demurely, from among the tall townhouses of the recently constructed residential neighbourhood.
A dairy used to stand right beside this well, but that’s been replaced by a house.
F2 was drilled in 1945, and to be fair, it operated efficiently until 1972, after which it was used only when needed and for emergencies, due to a high iron count.
In the 1990s, it was discovered that F2 was seriously interfering with the many private wells that served the new homes east of Scotland Street. These homes, built after F2 became a municipal well, were constructed in West Garafraxa Township before amalgamation, so they were never connected to the municipal system.
The final blow came in 2002, when F2 was identified as being a GUDI well, which means Groundwater Under the Direct Influence of surface water. It had to be moth-balled, and hasn’t been used in 16 years.
But, take heart F2, your day might still come. There is a hopeful option. The well could be encased with steel to a depth of 37 metres. This would permit participation of F2 in the well system. But many of the private wells across Gartshore would have to be integrated into the municipal system. Costly? You bet! We’ll come back to this issue later.
But for now, F2, GUDIbye!
Now we head west on St. Andrew’s Street and turn north on Herrick Street, following it up to Garafraxa Street East, where we turn right toward Gartshore, and north toward F4.
On the east side of Gartshore, just north of Glengarry Crescent, beside the Hydro building, we find the well designated as F4, which deserves to be named Plenty!
It’s a good, reliable well that recharges itself at the same rate at which water is extracted. We have something called The Buried Valley to thank for that.
When Plenty was drilled in 1972, little was accurately known about the shape, depth and extent of an ancient gorge referred to as The Buried Valley. Over the years well drillers have inadvertently drilled into this “other Elora gorge”, which is a 20,000 year old chasm that would make our tourist attraction pale by comparison. An ancient river drained that valley on its way to Lake Erie.
We knew, or thought we knew, that this prehistoric gorge would be filled with deep gravel – the best imaginable source of underground water.
A number of efforts to tap into it had been unsuccessful, but this time the drillers at this site not only hit it smack on, but were able to continue on down, drilling even into the bedrock beneath the old gorge. Now we routinely pump an average of more than a million litres per day, making this well worthy of its moniker, Plenty.
From the “fly in every ointment department,” however, came the information that Plenty shares some of the sulphurous taste of other area wells, and with sulphur comes hardness, which together diminish the aesthetic quality of the water. With continued use, over time the water has improved somewhat, but still the dissolved minerals mean that the water here is extremely hard, like the other Township wells.
Wave goodbye to Plenty as we continue northward. Gartshore proper ends at the Gund factory, but we continue northward a wee bit farther. Notice the water tower standing guard, which can store more than 3 million litres of water. Past the tower you can’t miss on your left municipal Well F6.
It’s always best to start with good news! There is ample water here, and it comes from a municipal well capable of pumping over a million litres a day, which we would expect in an efficient, well functioning water system.
But hold the cheers. There is a breathtaking issue here. Not to be insulting or anything, but the best name for F6 has surely got to be Loser because this well stinks of sulphur!
When construction began in 1989, this site was the second choice for the new well’s location. The first choice, in West Garafraxa, had to be abandoned because the ground in that location was deemed unstable. Drilling began here attended by constant monitoring of water hardness levels. It became clear that the deeper the drilling, the harder and more sulphury the water became.
Experience at F4 (remember Plenty, just down the road?) suggested to the engineers that because they had seen similar hardness levels there, in the same general area – and they thought this had moderated over time – they could expect the same thing here
That simply did not happen. The hardness level of the water and other elevated chemistry numbers at F6 continue to be excessive. The sulphur level is just about double the maximum desirable level.
Hard and Stinky = Loser! — at least when you are a municipal well.
Loser was ill-fated from its genesis. The Provincial Ministry of the Environment had approved the application for the new well, prior to construction, based on information contained in an International Water Supply engineering report. With this authorization, the Council proceeded with the expensive construction of the well, the pump house and the installation of 750 metres of watermain necessary to connect it to the municipal system. At this time there was no evidence that the new F6 would interfere in any way with F4.
A starkly different picture emerged when the project reached completion. The Ministry of the Environment refused to grant a water-taking permit, fearing F6 would interfere with F4.
Emergency communications between the town and the Ministry ensued. Strenuous efforts on the part of the township and an expensive further study of the well persuaded the Ministry that interference would not be a problem.
Well F6 now contributes only 10% of the current municipal water supply, and the water is blended with water from other wells, but we wish this well didn’t have to be used at all.
It must be hard for a well to be unloved. On the other hand, maybe someday Loser will single-handedly douse a major fire just as it threatens to engulf the town. Then we would surely rename it Our Hero! Good luck Loser!
Head back to Garafraxa St. Turn right, and at Beatty Line turn right again and find Well F7 on your left.
Slow Starter, F7
Slow Starter, that’s the only appropriate name for tardy municipal well F7.
In March of 2000, the Township began a process with public consultations with a view to improving its water system. That process led to building a brand new well on the site of the Allardice School, a decision that meant demolishing the building, which created some dissension among residents who had attended the old school.
It was also known at the time that there were 156 active private wells situated within 1 kilometre of the proposed well – something that needs to be considered in the light of the Walkerton water crisis of 2000. That disaster made water managers keenly aware of the risk of contamination of the municipal water supplies. Every private well provides a possible conduit for surface contamination getting into the municipal system.
Wisely, the method of ensuring maximum safety along with minimum interference with residences was selected, which was to integrate all of the existing private wells into the municipal water supply system. A very costly and time-consuming enterprise indeed.
There were a number of stops and starts at the site. Getting all the surrounding homes onto the municipal water system took a long time. And it was difficult to even test the pumping rate of this well, because to do so meant manually supplying water to a number of local homes during the test period – an onerous and labour-intensive undertaking.
Finally, in 2006, F7 was up and running. But it wasn’t used very much – and then not at all from 2008 to 2012. Why? After hooking up all the homes onto the system, town staff noticed that the well began producing water that was turbid, or muddy, so they were back to problem solving. A barrier had to be put into the well isolating out the problem area.
Happy Ending! After 12 years of a very complicated process Slow Starter, F7, is now providing Fergus with good quality water in quantities on average of approximately 800,000 litres a day, which is not bad for a well-functioning municipal well. Some say this water is the best in the entire system. Maybe the best things are just worth waiting for.
Head back along Beatty Line and turn right on Colborne St. to Elora. In town, turn right on Irvine St. and left onto David St. and look for Aqua St., where we turn right.
It’s not hard to locate municipal well E1 in Elora. On the east side of Aqua Street and between Sophia and David Street East sits a tidy, compact, solidly-built – perhaps even proud-looking – pump house. And well she might.
Built in 1948, this well seems to have taken on some of the optimism and energy of those years.
The war was over, soldiers were back in the workforce, the economy was booming, spirits were generally high. Let’s call E1 Victory, for it was certainly in the spirit of victory and confidence in the future that the town council launched the project of building a state of the art well.
Nothing but the best would do for this symbol of a vibrant new age. Here’s a quote from the engineers Dineen, Philips and Roberts’ specifications for certain items of the pump house equipment: “ the pump bowls are to be made of the best quality grey iron with bronze impellers, stainless steel runner shaft and with bronze bushing and inter-stage bearings.” In addition, an unusually deep shaft, 426 feet, was ordered and a pump capable of delivering 500 litres per minute.
Such a demand for ‘only the best’ produced results! Victory, the oldest of the three Elora wells, continues to be a workhorse. In 1976 it was producing 95 per cent of the town’s water, and is still, today, relied on to supply 60% of Elora’s water. It has been said that E1 is, ”the best well ever.” But there are cautions.
As we know, the area known as Lot 18 lies adjacent to Elora. From Sophia Street at the top of the Aqua St. hill, it extends as far as Salem. Ever since the late 19th century residents of Lot 18 refused to join Elora because they preferred to enjoy the lower tax rates of Nichol Township. The original landowners were mainly retired farmers who did not want to spend a cent more than they had to, so they repeatedly had to hammer out agreements with Elora for essential services such as fire protection and hydro.
Eventually many of the issues between Elora and Lot 18 fizzled out – that is, until the late 1940s, when well E1 was constructed. It was expected that these homes would go onto the water system. But Lot 18 residents adamantly refused to pay for water service! E1 is restricted from drawing down the water level enough to interfere with Lot 18 private wells.
Since Walkerton we have learned that the best arrangement for the safety of municipal water is to have all wells integrated into the public system, but in this case over 80 homes in Lot 18 remain on private wells. The cost to residents of connecting to the system is over $10,000 per household!
Nevertheless, Victory continues to be the major player in Elora’s water supply system, now sharing the role with E3 and E4.
Head back down Aqua St., turn right on David St., then left onto Geddes then stay right onto Metcalf Street and continue through town, over the Badley Bridge and past the LCBO. Just before you turn left onto Water St., look up the hill towards McNab St.
There remains no evidence to remind us of E2, the well that used to be, but you might feel a tremor of the ghost of it as we pass the LCBO and look up the hill towards McNab St. at the top of the park. Notes from several council meetings concerning the well’s construction arouse the suspicion that all was not “well” with this well.
Repeated warnings of, “don’t drill too deep!” and, “Be careful, don’t drill too deep!” became, “We drilled too deep!”
In the end, the water quality at this site was truly awful and the iron content was too high. This unlikely well was relegated to back up status in 1996, when the new E3 came on line and was decommissioned soon after.
Let’s just call this well Oops!
Tour continues now on Water St. to a right turn on Bridge Street. The water tower is ahead. Then a right turn onto the First Line, and just past Jeffersons is municipal well E3.
In 1990 the search began for a new well site. Because it was anticipated that the urban expansion of Elora would proceed along this southern part of the town, investigations were concentrated in this region. E2, we have seen, was not up to snuff and E1, which was considerably distant, was already supplying the major part of Elora’s water needs.
Around this same time auto parts maker Jefferson Industries expressed interest in building a plant in the area. The very possibility of being chosen as the location for such an interesting economic plum was appealing for a town anxious to expand its economic base.
Initial attempts to locate and drill into the buried valley, in hopes that large quantities of good quality water could be drawn from that gravelly water reservoir got under way.
The intention was to install a very deep well – at least 400 feet – into that aquifer. Drilling was successful and indications were that the water pumped was plentiful and of excellent quality.
However, even with the very first tests interference with private wells in the Hill street subdivision, to the west, was reported. This meant that a lining had to be placed inside the shaft and extended for its entire length, which slightly reduces the well’s capacity. Even so, some interference from this well is still occurring in the Hill Street neighbourhood, which limits how much this well can be used.
The construction of the new well in this location had the hoped-for economic benefits: Jeffersons has easy access to the water required for the operation of its business, and the factory brings employment and an enhanced tax base for the municipality of Centre Wellington. And that’s why we call E3 Welcome.
Jeffersons became our neighbour in 1996, and has since then undergone an $8 million expansion.
Continue along First Line, right on County Road 7 and then left on County Road 21 towards the racetrack. The entrance to the Cottontail Road Trail site is on the left side of County Road 21 and directly across from the main entrance to the Elora Gorge Park.
Cottontail Well, E4
A short walk from the parking lot of about half a kilometer will take you to the E4 pump house.
The last municipally-owned well that we’ll visit before heading to the Middlebrook well is, in fact, associated with Middlebrook in a couple of ways.
In 1998 the town was searching for a spot for another new well. For some time Elora had wanted to purchase the well already existing on Middlebrook Road and owned, at that time, by the Beckham family, who had operated it as a make-your-own beer and wine company and which became the Middlebrook Water Company.
The town knew this well was situated on a free flowing water source – an artisian well – and that the water was plentiful. It was the costs associated with the Centre Wellington amalgamation in 1999 that prevented them from taking on the long-term expense the municipality would incur by assuming such a debt. The cost at that time was 1.8 million dollars for purchasing the well and an estimated additional $2 million required for building a well house and running a water main to the town.
Was there an alternative? It was known that the Buried Valley, a kilometer further along the Cottontail Road Trail from our present well, could be a prime source of splendid water. Imagine the disappointment then, when the test well’s efforts to reach the bedrock valley were successful, but instead of deep gravel deposits where the water should have been waiting there was only sand. It was full of sand, through which water moves very, very slowly.
So they all took a deep breath, we suppose, and decamped a kilometer closer to town, to the spot on which the current well E4 is situated. This location would be perfect, since by this time both the Raceway and the Elora Gorge Park would require ready supplies of water.
And water was found, but not the capacity that had been hoped for from a new well. And then the usual culprit, interference with other wells, presented itself.
While there is sufficient water here to supply a third of Elora’s needs, the Cottontail well must be limited to producing at 60 per cent of its capacity and be operated for only 15 hours a day. The interference problem here is with private wells and with well E3. Despite these wells being more than 2 km apart, E3 and E4 cannot be run at full capacity at the same time.
And here’s where Middlebrook comes back into our picture. Although not visible from here, the Cottontail well and the Middlebrook well are almost directly across the river from each other, just 1.5 kilometers apart. It’s entirely possible that Nestlé’s Middlebrook well could interfere with the operation of Elora well E4. There is a hydraulic connection between these two wells, and in fact between Middlebrook and all of the town’s wells.
Drive back along Rd. 21, left on County Rd. 7 and just after the bridge turn left on the Middlebrook Road. Drive 2 km. to 7334 Middlebrook Road, on your right.
At last! The Middlebrook well.
You have had the interest and you have taken the time to see for yourselves the wells that comprise our municipal water system. You have heard their stories. So, it is almost certain that you know the history of this Middlebrook well and of its recent relationship with Centre Wellington residents. Just a very quick reminder.
The well was owned by the Beckhams until July, 2016. It was operated as the Middlebrook Water Company since 2002. The town of Elora and then the Township of Centre Wellington investigated purchasing the well several times, most recently just prior to amalgamation, but the cost was always too high.
In the spring of 2015, Nestlé made an offer on the property, conditional on a pump test to confirm the quality and quantity of the water. A year later, in July 2016 the township put a higher, counter offer on the well. When the township made that offer, Nestlé dropped their condition, exercised its right of first refusal, and purchased the well. Within months of Nestlé’s purchase, Queen’s Park imposed a two-year moratorium on new permits to water bottling companies that use groundwater. The moratorium expires on January 1, 2019.
Now is the time to measure what we know about the municipal wells in terms of the essential questions:
At this moment in time, is our current water supply system, which serves a population of approximately 19,000 people, functioning with optimal efficiency and capacity?
A. Apparently not.
Is our current system able to serve the water requirements of a population of approximately 45,000 by 2041?
A. Far from it. When you take into account the developments that are currently approved but not yet built, we have only 16 per cent of our water left unallocated. Where will the water come from for doubling our population or for sustaining new industries?
Q. Will we be able to locate sites where construction of new wells – even one new well – is possible?
A. According to the Hunter report, municipal-scale, private water taking at Middlebrook would interfere with the orderly and efficient expansion of the Township’s well system. The operation would directly compete with expansion of water supplies for Fergus-Elora.
Nestle plans to extract from this Middlebrook well 1.6 million litres a day – just short of the amount of water taken daily from the three Elora wells combined.
With a 2 km distance recommended between high capacity wells, Nestlé’s operation at Middlebrook just 2 km from town, would wipe out almost the entire west side of Elora as a possible location for new municipal water.
At a cost of over $7.5 million per well, how many new wells do you think we could develop by 2041 if, by some miracle, we found places to put them?
A. It boggles the mind.
Are the mayor and Council listening?
Yes. In September 2016 Council and mayor unanimously declared, by resolution, that water resources within the Township are a “Public Trust”, which means that they believe water should be reserved for public use. That is, for us and for future generations.
Further, in May 2018, Council resolved unanimously that the Township of Centre Wellington is ‘not a willing host’ and opposes the issuance of a Permit for any new extraction of water for the purpose of commercial water bottling. This is a strong statement.
Now we hope the Province is listening too.
You must be ready for a glass of something wet. We leave you with one final thought to ponder as you turn on your tap at home for a glass of water or to fill your kettle. Water captured by our municipal wells, from the time of its source as it fell on the ground as rain, has been travelling for 50 to 500 years to reach our taps. Amazing!