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Water Today Title November 25, 2017

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Bwa of the day - Wainfleet, ON - 1/23/13

The saga of a 7-year old BWA

Wainfleet is a rural township found on the northern shore of Lake Erie, in the southern Niagara Region of Ontario. Approximately 217.40 square kilometres in size, it is best known for its agricultural productivity and Lake shore area. The area is utilized for dairy, beef cattle, and cash crops. Township boundaries consist of a nine mile lakeshore along the north of Lake Erie, and 20 miles along the meandering course of the Welland River.

In April 2006, a Boil Water Advisory was issued for some 1,300 Wainfleet properties located in the area south of the Trans Canada Trail and extending to the Lake Erie shoreline.

Four years earlier, a MacViro Consultants survey had found that 30% of homes had e.coli exceedences, 52% of homes had total coliform exceedences and 7% of homes had nitrate exceedences compared to the Ontario Drinking Water Protection Regulation (ODWPR). The survey also found that 40% of homes had septic systems greater than 20 years of age, 44% did not meet the legal setback requirements between wells and septics and 29% were not adequately maintained.

The report concluded that "local groundwater resources are at high risk of contamination from nitrate and other sewage effluent contaminants (including bacteria and other pathogens). In addition, it was found that phosphate loading and pathogen contamination, resulting from groundwater contamination by septic systems is a threat to the natural environment of Lake Erie."

Seven years later, the problem is largely unsolved, with the cost of fixing it the major obstacle.

After years of discussions and millions spent on studies, the Big Pipe option which would have connected the area to the Port Colborne water and sewage treatment plants was dropped because because its cost would have climbed to $118 million with private hookups, property acquisition, engineering fees, and restoring roads factored in. Residents also feared they could be on the hook for some $80,000 per household to connect their properties to water and sewer pipes.

Wainfleet has since opted for a "Find, Repair, Replace" solution for private septic systems which involves mandatory inspection of septic systems, a requirement to fix deficiencies, or the installation of a replacement system where "fixing" is not feasible. But according to an article in the Welland Tribune (4.11.12) some residents are upset about having to shell out some $550 every three years for a mandatory sewage system inspection when 'many qualified independent companies will do the same task and bill significantly less'.

We spoke with the mayor, April Jeffs, about the situation, "We had a public meeting last summer and have now found a more reasonable solution," she said. "Instead of setting up an in-house service to do the inspections we have found a private company who has agreed to take care of it for a cost of $114 per inspection. The "Find, Repair and Relace" program which was to begin in 2012, is now shceduled to start in April 2013.

In the meantime, Jeffs said many Wainfleet households have already installed new septic systems, and residents also use cisterns with treated water trucked in from Port Colborne, as well as drilled wells. "Many of the households are summer residents only," she said." And very few residents drink water straight from the tap; they either use bottled water for drinking or have a a UV system."

Asked if the provincial government should not step in, because of the threat of contaminated water seeping into Lake Erie, Jeffs allowed that the regional government's mandate was groundwater not lake water, and that while appealing to the province could be an option, she suspected that Ministry of Natural Resources would want sewers and pipes installed and 'make us pay for them'.

"MOE, the Ontario Ministry of Environment is watching us", she added."They fear another Walkerton, but the situation here is quite different. In Walkerton the problem was with municipal water, here it's with groundwater. Besides, in Port Coloborne where the water is municipal, there was an oil spill last year that contaminated the water. There are no guarantees."

Update 1/27/13

We contacted the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, who publish a Swim Guide mobile App to find out more about the beaches in the Wainfleet area. According to their statistics, Long Beach and Long Beach Conservation (East and West) exhibit chronic water quality issues. Since 2010, the percentage of days the beach has been given the green light for recreational activities are as follows: Long Beach = 76%, Long Beach East = 40%, Long Beach West = 73%. The benchmark of a healthy beach is that it is open at least 95% of the swimming season.

Related info:
Wainfleet Website
Map Location
BWA of the day archives

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