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Protect rural area from regional plans, groups asks Wellesley

Waterloo Region’s controversial environmentally sensitive landscape (ESL) designation is a front for future plans to extract groundwater from rural areas, says a group of landowners.

The Environmentally Sensitive Property Owners Association (ESPO) wants Wellesley council to challenge the upper tier government, protecting a rural resource from abuse.

“We submit the ESL that was proposed four years later as an environmental issue was a façade for the underlying water-taking plan. The water is there, so if you stop development, you limit pollution and you have a clean water supply,” Glenn Baechler told councillors meeting Monday night.

Baechler, a Bamberg-area resident, spoke on behalf of ESPO, a provincially chartered citizens’ group consisting of 42 family memberships that account for over 60 per cent of the designated land in the Laurel Creek Environmentally Sensitive Landscape. Two more ESLs are earmarked for North Dumfries and Cambridge.

In his presentation, Baechler urged Wellesley councillors to consider the location of the area’s current ESL—straddling the borders between Waterloo, Wellesley, Woolwich, and Wilmot—and compare it to the proposed sites where the region intends to extract water in the future. He argued that the two overlap and that the region’s long-term water strategy reveals “an ulterior and clandestine purpose.”

“Why does the region want to limit any expansion on this significant area that has a higher elevation? Why do they want to throw a blanket over these 5,300 acres of land?  Why put a highway through it? … What is the underlying issue?” he asked.

As a landowner whose property south of Bamberg falls within the ESL, Baechler noted that since the area was designated environmentally sensitive regional representatives have failed to answer his questions.

Even the formation of the Laurel Creek Headwaters Environmentally Sensitive Landscape Public Liaison Committee – mandated following an Ontario Municipal Board hearing in 2007 and made up of region staff, private landowners and ESPO members – has done little to clarify the region’s intentions.

As far as he is concerned, it is no coincidence that a number of the region’s proposed well sites overlap the ESLs.

“If that is true, why was the region going to spend what eventually was $3.5 million to widen the five kilometer Weimar Line, through the middle of their proposed ESL?,” said Baechler, arguing that Weimar Line will be widened and upgraded for the purposes of “being readied for a pipeline to supply water to the very cities that also want us to provide their clean air environment.”

This, he maintains, could seriously compromise the very landscapes the designation itself seeks to protect.

Baechler urged councillors to study the issue, to attend the public meetings on the second draft of the new regional official plan (ROP) scheduled for next week, and to press for assurances from the region that it will not draw water from the ESL.

“We ask that you will defend our township’s water resources in your deliberations.”

The region’s manager of environmental planning, Chris Gosselin, rejected the notion that the region’s potable water needs and interests are behind ESL designation program.

“I wouldn’t be able to say whether the region intends to drill wells there in the future – that would be our water services department – but they’re areas that have in previous times been identified as having potential water resources in them.…The ESL designation was not made on the basis of groundwater resources that could be used for municipal purposes – there’s really no connection there,” he said in an interview.

If anything, the ESL designation offers more protection for the water sources, he added.

“There are policies in the amendment that actually make it somewhat more difficult and challenging for the region to extract water from the ESL: there’s a higher standard of proof that would have to be met to indicate that extraction of water was not having a negative impact upon the natural features of the ESL – so there’s actually more protection there than there would have been beforehand.”

That said, Gosselin noted that water extraction from the ESLs won’t necessarily cause environmental damage.

With fairly impermeable layers of rock and silt in between multiple aquifers, there isn’t necessarily a “connection between one aquifer and another one below it.”

In some cases then, water can be extracted from a deeper aquifer with little or no impact on aquifers that are above it, he said.

“We have a vested interest in protecting those ESLs.”

In his presentation to council, Baechler referenced a map from a March 2000 report highlighting more than 15 areas in the region identified as potential new well sites. Four of those sites fell within Wellesley’s borders.

But Nancy Kodousek, the region’s director of water services, said staff is currently studying just three new well sites near the Wellesley area. Identifying the need to restore existing capacity and for additional water supply to meet anticipated population growth in 2007, the region is conducting environmental assessments of three potential good sources of water supply. The list includes Westmount and Bearinger roads, Conservation Drive and Westmount Road, and an area on Erbsville Road.

As for the potential sites listed on the map, she noted they’re not under consideration at present.

“They indicate potential new well sites; those have been areas that through study have indicated that perhaps they would be studied in the future – it didn’t mean they would necessarily be targeted. We have no activity going on there right now.”

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