STANDING COMMITTEE ON GENERAL GOVERNMENT
Thursday 21 November 2019
Citizens for Safe Ground Water
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): Before we call our final presenter, I just want to thank all members for their co-operation today and for maintaining decorum. We have one more presenter ready to go, and I would ask all members to keep their conversations to a whisper all around the table. If I can hear you, then everyone can hear you, and it’s a distraction. So let’s respect each other’s time and get through this last presentation. Thank you very much.
I’d now like to call upon Citizens for Safe Ground Water: Mr. Rory Farnan. When you are ready, please state your name for Hansard, and then you may begin. You will have 10 minutes for your presentation.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Great. My name is Rory Farnan and I am the secretary for Citizens for Safe Ground Water.
Good afternoon, honorable members, and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today, even though I may sound like a bit of a broken record at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
Also, a special acknowledgement to MPP Harris, who represents my riding of Kitchener-Conestoga at Queen’s Park, and Mr. Schreiner and Madam Fife, who represent the neighbouring ridings of Guelph and Waterloo.
Like most of you sitting across from me today, I have spent most of my life living in an urban setting. Issues like roads, sidewalks, urban infrastructure: These were topics that affected me the most. However, four years ago my wife and I moved from suburban Waterloo to rural Wilmot township, and have started our family there. Living in the township has brought a new perspective on challenges that communities face, and although some challenges completely differ from each other, one thing has remained the same: the need to protect our drinking water.
My name is Rory Farnan and, again, I am the secretary for Citizens for Safe Ground Water. I am here today to outline a few of our concerns relating to aggregate policy in Ontario which affect communities big and small. But first, please allow me to take a few moments to explain how I got to be standing—or sitting—in front of you today.
A member of our local Optimist board of directors, I was approached by a woman named Michelle back in April. Michelle was coming back from her daily run. On her run that day, she noticed a woman in the distance sitting on her porch. As Michelle got closer to the home, the woman started running towards her. They chatted about an upcoming gravel pit application for a property located on the same road, and the woman handed her a piece of paper inviting her to a neighbourhood meeting. Michelle asked me if I had any experience with gravel pits and whether I would be interested in attending the meeting. I attended and, as the old saying goes, the rest is history.
They say all politics is local, which couldn’t be further from the truth today.
Citizens for Safe Ground Water is probably the truest form of grassroots organization that I have ever been a part of. It started as a small neighbourhood meeting at a local rod and gun club, to being in front of you today commenting on Bill 132.
I would suggest to you that our group is not opposed to aggregate extraction, but is a group that is pro-water. We are a group that sees not only the micro issues of the gravel pit application that is in front of us today in Wilmot but the macro issues that it presents to an entire region in the long term. We have presented in front of our township and regional councils, supporting their concerns to the proposed changes that your committee is obtaining feedback on today.
First and foremost, our number one concern is our municipal water supply. For an economy to grow and prosper, it is paramount that our water is protected. Without it, communities don’t nourish or flourish. The gravel pit application that I referenced earlier, which includes a used asphalt and concrete recycling area, is being proposed within a source water recharge protection area from which municipal wellheads draw water.
The region of Waterloo is heavily reliant on groundwater, water from the Waterloo moraine, drawing underground water via approximately 100 wellheads. Two wellheads that feed from this water recharge area represent close to 7% of the region’s integrated water system. As such, it is the recommendation of the Citizens for Safe Ground Water that any aggregate activity be restricted to areas that are outside of a designated source water protection area.
Second, which also relates to water supply, are the cumulative impacts of aggregate extraction on the environment and the affected water tables below. The gravel pit location before Wilmot township will be situated in the immediate area of several existing pits, including Lafarge, Coco Paving, Steed and Evans, Dino Trucking and the township. The risks that are being presented by adding another gravel pit in an area that is already aggregate intense, with the added sensitivity of groundwater recharge, is unknown. It is our understanding that, to date, there have not been any comprehensive studies conducted to understand the impacts of intense aggregate activity within a certain region and what effects it poses on water resources.
With that, it is the recommendation of Citizens for Safe Ground Water that the provincial government, in collaboration with each local municipality, conduct a comprehensive study on the impact of intense micro aggregate production activities on local water resources.
Third is our concern about aggregate rehabilitation. In a recent study conducted by the region of Waterloo, a miniscule 20% of land excavated for aggregate production has undergone rehabilitation. That is just not acceptable, and poses permanent destruction of significant natural features and ecosystems. In the case of the gravel pit application before us in Wilmot, the applicant has suggested that after decades of peeling away protective layers of sand and gravel, which are used as a filtration system before hitting the water table, they will return the property to its previous state of agricultural use. But let’s be honest with ourselves: How can we be convinced that (a) it will be rehabilitated as planned, given the statistics in front of us today; and (b) what will be used to fill the pit to restore it back to agriculture, with the necessary ingredients required to filter from contaminants in the future?
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): You have three minutes left.
Mr. Rory Farnan: As such, Citizens for Safe Ground Water propose that the provincial government conduct a comprehensive review of existing aggregate licences to determine what can be done to improve the success rate of rehabilitation, and consider revisiting existing pit agreements that remain dormant from rehabilitation, especially those that are owned by applicants who want to submit future development applications. As North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton recently commented to the CBC, aggregate extraction is like chopping a leg off; it doesn’t grow back.
Fourth: It is our understanding from the government’s position that there is a growing need for aggregate to facilitate the province’s growth. One of the things that we have learned in this process is that gravel pit operators can essentially sit on a property once it has been licensed, with no benchmarks in place to dictate the amount of aggregate it must produce to the market versus the amount of aggregate extraction it has been approved for. Across the road from the applicant’s proposed gravel pit in Wilmot is an extremely large property—I believe almost 400 acres—that is owned by Lafarge. Most of that property remains untouched, with no current extraction taking place or plans for extraction in the immediate future.
As such, Citizens for Safe Ground Water recommends to the province a full-scale audit of all active gravel pit licences to determine the current running capacity of extraction. Why continue to approve new applications if existing applications are not operating at optimal capacity to meet demand?
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): You have one minute left.
Mr. Rory Farnan: This should be considered low-hanging fruit, for the government to make more aggregate available today, versus waiting years for new applications to lift off the ground.
Fifth is related to haulage routes that affect the traffic safety and ongoing road maintenance costs within our municipalities. Large-sized, heavy-scaled trucks are a danger to neighbouring residents, businesses and roadways that neighbour a gravel pit. Again, pointing to the application before us in Wilmot, it is estimated that up to 34 trucks an hour could travel on Witmer Road, which is a small township road that the pit will use to haul aggregate out of and used asphalt and concrete into. It is a narrow road with no shoulders, no guardrails, peaks and valleys, and hidden driveways. It is on a school bus route and is used by runners, cyclists and pedestrians alike.
With that, it is the recommendation of Citizens for Safe Ground Water that municipalities continue to have jurisdiction as it relates to haul route approvals, and that comprehensive road standards are enacted for primary haul routes.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): Thank you very much. That’s the time that I have for your presentation.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Okay. I have a sixth, which would only take a minute, if you would—
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): You would have to—
Mr. Ian Arthur: We’re going to give him a minute of our time.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): Okay. You’re giving him how much of the time?
Mr. Ian Arthur: As much as he needs.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): Okay. All right. If you can just give me one moment, please.
Mr. Rory Farnan: I only need one minute for—
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): Okay, that’s fine. I have to make sure, with the timing. Okay, you may continue.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Yes. Thank you.
Mr. Mike Harris: Rory, we’ll cede a minute of our time—
Mr. Rory Farnan: I appreciate it. Thank you. Again, my apologies. It’s a very hard thing. Madam Redman only gave me three minutes at the regional meeting, and I barely pulled it off.
Mr. Mike Harris: You get more than she did. Remember that.
Mr. Rory Farnan: The minute I saved for her, if you’d give it to me, I’d thank you.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): Sorry. So you’re going to give one minute of your time?
Mr. Mike Harris: We’ll give him one minute of our time, yes.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): Okay.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Thank you, honourable member. I appreciate that.
The sixth is the protection of our agricultural lands. The property of the proposed gravel pit sits within the region of Waterloo’s protected countryside, and it is designated as prime agricultural, with the municipality’s official plan designating the site as agricultural. In 2015, farms in Waterloo region generated $563.6 million in revenue, which is an increase of $90.7 million from 2010.
With that in mind, it is the recommendation of the Citizens for Safe Ground Water that the provincial government recognize the strategic designations set forth by local municipalities as they relate to the protections of our agriculture resources and the economy that benefits from it financially.
Each municipality is different, choosing what they feel is important to make them unique from others.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): It has been a minute.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Fair enough.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): If you’d still like to—
Mr. Rory Farnan: No, that’s great.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): Okay. MPP Harris.
Mr. Mike Harris: Rory, it’s great to see you.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Thanks. It’s good to you again, yes.
Mr. Mike Harris: We’ve obviously had a chance to chat. It was actually a front porch chat, which was kind of fun too.
Mr. Rory Farnan: That’s right, yes.
Mr. Mike Harris: We came out to Sam’s house.
Mr. Rory Farnan: The same porch.
Mr. Mike Harris: The same porch. There you go. I figured it might be.
There are a few things that you brought up today. Obviously, you’re speaking of a very specific application that’s currently going forward.
Mr. Rory Farnan: I am, yes.
Mr. Mike Harris: I’m obviously very well aware of that application and a lot of the different nuances to it. It actually just came in—I think it was last week, or about a week and a half ago that we’ve finally seen what the plan is there.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Correct.
Mr. Mike Harris: I want to just speak a little bit broader, obviously, because I don’t think it’s fair to the committee to be speaking just about one specific project.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Understood.
Mr. Mike Harris: I think some of the things that we talked about when we were there chatting were looking at better ways to go forward—it’s the end of the day—
Mr. Rory Farnan: Yes, I understand. I appreciate what you guys are going through.
Mr. Mike Harris: —and looking at ways that we can reduce burdensome red tape, reduce duplication—I know that was one of the things that we talked about—
Mr. Rory Farnan: Yes.
Mr. Mike Harris: —but while still maintaining fairly stringent environmental regulations.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Sure.
Mr. Mike Harris: One thing that I have brought up a couple of times today, and I want to bring it up again because I know this is something that you’re keen on, is that, currently, there is no mechanism for a concerned citizen like yourself to be able to bring an application, such as the one that we have in Shingletown, and be an official objector to that application and bring that to the LPAT. There’s no mechanism in place to do that.
With the regulation we’re looking at putting forward in this bill, it would give you the opportunity to be able to do that and be an official objector and be able to send that application to be reviewed by a third party, which would include all the hydrology studies, all the geological studies and all of the feedback that would come from the municipality, which again is the one that has to initially zone said property to be able to have aggregate extracted on it.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Sure.
Mr. Mike Harris: There are some new mechanisms we’re putting in place to give people, and citizens just like yourself, and the other folks who are part of your organization an opportunity to do that. Are you supportive of a move like that?
Mr. Rory Farnan: Without seeing the fine print of it, yes, I would be supportive of anything that would encourage public engagement, although, again, I would caution that any application that would be put forth that would be sitting on top of a source-water protection area—
Mr. Mike Harris: And of course all of those things would be taken into account through the evaluation process?
Mr. Rory Farnan: Absolutely, yes. I’m struggling with the word “protection” and what the definition of that really means, but yes. I would support any public engagement that would be brought forth.
Mr. Mike Harris: Very good. Thanks.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Thank you. I appreciate your time.
Mr. Mike Harris: That’s all for us, Chair.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): Thank you very much.
We’ll now turn to the official opposition. You have 10 minutes. MPP Stevens, you may begin.
Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: Thank you for coming on behalf of the Citizens for Safe Ground Water. I think that the first part of your group name, “citizens,” is what we should all be looking forward to at a provincial level, as well as not ignoring the municipal level.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Thank you.
Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: You mentioned the municipal official plan and the detection of agricultural lands. Can you elaborate on that? That was basically your last point, and I found that very interesting, that you feel that this bill will actually affect the official plans of your municipality.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Well, quite potentially. The municipality, in an effort to protect rural properties, has made official designations that put, at least in our particular case, this property in a protected countryside area, in a prime agricultural space. Realizing that this area of the region brings a half-billion dollars to the economy, they obviously want to see it protected and nourished.
When you see a 20% increase in revenue over a five-year period and a municipality that is also trying to protect urban sprawl—which is something Waterloo region, I believe, has been a leader in, as well—I think it talks to several key issues. They’ve decided that it’s strategic for them to have this portion of land or this region as agricultural and not subjected to other types of operation like aggregate extraction.
Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: Just one other thing: In St. Catharines we have an aggregate pit that has started. The previous speaker mentioned the right to restrict the depth of aggregate extraction, and right now within the city of St. Catharines we have one. We didn’t have that guideline of depth, and the contractor actually hit below and hit the water table, which has now caused almost a natural ponding. Do you feel that that could happen? And if that does happen within your municipality, how would that affect your drinking water or your water table?
Mr. Rory Farnan: Particularly to the application that we’re reviewing today, it is my understanding that there’s only a metre and a half, I believe, between the lowest excavation point and the water table.
Now, that being said, I’m not a scientist—probably the gentleman with the beautiful shirt that I might ask to borrow for Friday night might better explain—but water tables are not straight. Water tables flow. They flow in different directions. They flow at different heights. That happens in the spring, that happens in the fall, and so to put maybe six or seven feelers out in a 200-acre property and suggest that an entire property is going to flow based on those six wellheads, whatever this gentleman has put in, or future applicants—I don’t believe that that’s a true reflection.
We talked about the cumulative effects, too, of what happens when you have a half-dozen pits within a two-block radius of each other. What happens when the sixth one comes into the water table at that point? We don’t know. We don’t have those studies.
From our perspective, at least in Waterloo region, what happens when things get breached, and they’ve been breached before—these two wells, in particular, when you look at them, provide approximately 7% of the integrated water system. Seven per cent doesn’t sound like a lot for two wellheads; when there’s 100 of them, it’s pretty significant. You’re essentially getting rid of, I think, a valuable portion of what has contributed to the overall drinking water supply and general municipal water supply.
I haven’t even touched upon private wells in the area. There was a recent article in the New Hamburg Independent—I’m sure you probably saw that this week, honourable member, but essentially it’s two members of the community who use their private well for their business. What happens to private well contamination and to the businesses that are located within that area?
We talk about drinking water for the region. We’re a growing region; we rely on water. We, obviously with global warming, will rely on water even more, but even just the people who are in the immediate area, whether it be nurseries or farming, cattle feed—different sectors within that area could be affected through their private wells. That is one thing that the region doesn’t spend a lot of time on, because they’re obviously focused on the regional wells, not private wells. So we definitely have some concern about private well contamination, as well.
Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: Okay. Thank you.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Thank you.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): MPP Fife?
Ms. Catherine Fife: Just quickly: Thank you, Rory, and I hope that the public meeting that you’re going to have on—November 26, is it?
Mr. Rory Farnan: I believe, yes.
Ms. Catherine Fife: I hope it’s well attended. I know that I’ve been receiving phone calls about this. I think it comes down to risk, right? And is it worth it? I know that there’s a feeling out there, “This is on a farmer’s property. It’s his property. It’s 200 acres. It’s his farm.” But at the end of the day, you also have to weigh in public interest and public health, and that decision will have an impact on the entire region.
That is why we didn’t want the repeal of the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre Act to be part of this. We think that citizens deserve to have tools and mechanisms by which they can actually be actively involved in planning decisions like this, but also that local municipalities are that direct link with the citizens that they serve. We want to make sure, and we’re going to try to change this as this act moves forward, that municipalities don’t lose that power.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Yes, that’s very important.
Ms. Catherine Fife: It’s very important. I just want to wish you well on the 26th.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Thank you.
Ms. Catherine Fife: It’s the timing of what’s going to happen with the Hallman pit in Wilmot township and the timing of this bill—it’s like a perfect storm. It will test whether or not this government truly understands that this is a huge risk for the well-being—and the economy, as you pointed out—for the people of Wilmot.
Mr. Rory Farnan: We’ve made it quite clear: We’re not anti-aggregate extraction. We realize that—where else are you going to get it? You have to get it from the ground. But there are certain areas, like you say, when you want to talk about calculated risk, that should just be a no-brainer. Protected source water recharge areas: You can’t produce those once they’re contaminated.
Ms. Catherine Fife: I think your quote, that you’re not anti-aggregate; you’re pro-water—that is the message that you’ve come to this government with and to this committee with.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Yes. There are lots of places to do aggregate in, so I appreciate it.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): You have one minute left. MPP Arthur.
Mr. Ian Arthur: It’s not so much a question as just a thank you for coming here today and sharing your story. Groups like yours continue to play such a vital role. When we look at water resources across Ontario—I asked a question last week about the residents of Tottenham, who have trihalomethanes in their water that’s contaminated. We have many, many boil-water advisories, continuing the troubles in Essex county with water. We need groups like yours continuing to advocate for safe water. I get why you don’t trust the government to do it well. They haven’t so far, on many, many cases.
Mr. Rory Farnan: We’re pretty grateful, I think, living in Waterloo region, that we have a pretty progressive municipal government that has put a lot of safeguards in place not only for drinking water but for protected countryside and prime agriculture. It’s my understanding that the region of Waterloo has made recommendations to the provincial government in that regard.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): Thank you very much. That’s the time that we have for the official opposition.
Last but not least, turning to the leader of the Green Party, the independent Green member: You will have two minutes. You may begin.
Mr. Mike Schreiner: Thank you, Rory, for your presentation. I really appreciate it.
MPP Smith mentioned my private member’s bill, which I am happy to say would address many of the concerns you presented today—though I’ll apologize to you; it applies to the Paris Galt moraine. But if my colleagues would like to amend it, I’d consider it a friendly amendment to apply it to the Waterloo region moraine. We all can work together on that.
Mr. Rory Farnan: There’s no reason why it shouldn’t.
Interjection: We’re all in it together.
Mr. Mike Schreiner: We’re all in this together, Rory.
Mr. Rory Farnan: To be quite frank, sir, the two are neighbours, so don’t think for one moment that not protecting one moraine with a neighbouring moraine beside it is not going to have an adverse effect over that. I appreciate what you’re doing and would love to see that extended. It sounded like maybe everyone would be in agreeance to that today.
Mr. Mike Schreiner: Let’s hope so, Rory.
Mr. Rory Farnan: If we get that in Hansard, that would be terrific.
Mr. Mike Schreiner: There’s limited time here. In Wilmot township, farming is very important. The municipality’s designated land is protected farmland. Are you worried that Bill 132 could supersede the municipality’s ability to put those kinds of protections in place?
Mr. Rory Farnan: My understanding, from a lot of things that I’ve learned over the last couple of months, is that aggregate is either not mentioned or exempt from many aspects of legislation that we have. So, yes, anything that doesn’t strengthen or deny extraction within a source water protected area, in my mind, is something that’s a missed opportunity.
Mr. Mike Schreiner: Great. That’s a good way to close, Rory. Thank you.
The Chair (Ms. Goldie Ghamari): Thank you very much. This concludes our business for today. You may step down.
Mr. Rory Farnan: Thank you for your time.