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Healthy Water?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

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Written by www.thecannon.ca

From 1 till 4, March 30th, at the Arboretum OPIRG Guelph presented Healthy Water, Healthy Growth, Healthy Guelph; a community panel and discussion. The event was designed to address growing concerns about how the government mandated dramatic increase in Guelph's population over the next 30 years will effect our watershed.

Four panelists spoke from their own vantage points and experiences on what these proposed changes could mean in Guelph.

Jack Imhof, a national biologist, urged us to consider context and the bigger picture of effects over time. He talked about the problems that current urban structure creates; sewer systems and concrete remove water from the ground as fast as possible. He says we should instead explore more natural systems which return as much water to the ground as possible. This would replenish our local water supply and decrease our dependance on looking else where for it, like Lake Erie.

Karen Farbridge followed with a speech about how community values should shape our policies. She focused mostly on the places to grow act which; "gives the province the ability to do local growth plans." The province has big plans for Guelph; the accommodation of 65 thousand new residents in 25 years. Ideally this growth would be 'compact development' meant to curb urban sprawl.

Farbridge also said; "if we had a blue print we wouldn't be seeking your input." which could be taken to mean that although the province is taking more and more control of Guelph's ability to self govern, it is not yet set in stone. She vaguely mentioned plans the city has for conservation of water, but admitted that even if the water in the area can sustain the population increase, our waste water treatment cannot effectively keep up.

This idea was further explored by Gord Miller, the environmental commissioner of Ontario. Guelph treats it's sewage the best it can, however, we miss the finial step. Too many nutrients, sediments, bacteria and pharmaceuticals are released into the dumping ground for waste water; the Speed River. Once it's there we rely on nature to do the finial cleaning. Miller challenged Guelph, saying that in 2008 we have choices to make; we can either continue trying to force nature to conform to us, or we can decide to stat to live within the constraints of our landscape.

The finial speaker of the day was Barry Hill, an engineer and part of a task force that deals with Six Nations source water protection. On his reserve there is no ground water aquifer, only contaminated surface water run off polluting the wells which 80% of people rely on. The rest of the water is drawn from the Grand River. "We really don't have any water...we're dependent on your 'good graces' upstream." He made it very clear that the decision of how to treat and where to get Guelph's water in the future has effects reaching far further then city limits.

After questions to the panel and a quick coffee break participants broke off into small groups to answer questions and discuss water issues. To close the day, spokes-members from each group stood to present action plans. More than one suggested the creation of living, natural post waste water treatment filtration systems in the Speed River. Others brought up tactics like composting toilets, re-use of waste waters, strategically placed trees, and higher goals for water conservation. Others spoke of the need for more education in the school systems and for increased dialogue between organizing communities.

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