Water act excludes Mother Nature [Ontario]

November 5, 2009
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Funding blocked after Peterborough discovers most water pollution caused by Canada geese not agriculture

by BRIAN LOCKHART

Peterborough’s goose poop problem has revealed that clean water legislation, intended to keep agricultural and other waste out of waterways, ignores the effects of Mother Nature.

A flock of Canada geese that has taken up residence several hundred metres north of the city’s water intake pipes has created a mess that was initially blamed on agricultural activity several miles upstream.

A Peterborough Public Utilities Commission study in 2006, however, determined that 68 per cent of the E. coli bacteria entering the raw water supply came from goose droppings.

When the city applied for funding under the Ontario drinking water stewardship program to control the pesky birds however, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) turned it down. Apparently it doesn’t meet the criteria of the Clean Water Act.

Threats, as defined in the Clean Water Act 2006, are land use activities which correspond to land uses within the Planning Act or conditions that result from activities, says Heather Malcolmson, MOE manager of source protection planning. Past activity land use is also considered.

“The Act is set out to provide tools,” she says. “The Stewardship Funding Program is enabled within the Act.”

Malcolmson says Peterborough’s problem falls “out of the scope” of the Act. She suggests the city look for funding elsewhere in the province.

The Trent Conservation Source Protection Region supported the city’s application to the Ministry. They requested that one of the Act’s technical rules be revised to include “discharge of avian feces to surface water” as a local threat. They also wanted “congregation of waterfowl upstream of an intake” as a circumstance.

“It’s our mandate to work with source protection and municipalities are among our stake holders.” explains Glenda Rogers, Trent Conservation Project Manager. “You have to make local requests. In this situation the geese are very close to the water intake.”

The ministry denied the request in an October 23, 2009 letter signed by Ian Smith, director of the ministry’s source protection programs branch.

Jack Sisson, curator of the 60-acre Riverview Park and Zoo in Peterborough where the birds have decided to call home, says goose numbers have been increasing over the past 10 years, ranging from 20 to 60, depending on the day.

“We have a company that comes to scare the geese away, but it doesn’t alleviate the problem for good,” he says.

Sisson says Lakefield, about 15 kilometres north of Peterborough, has the same problem.

Jane Lewington, spokesperson for Conservation Ontario, a network of 36 conservation authorities, says she’s not aware of similar problems in other municipalities. BF

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