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Source Water Protection

OSSGA seminar focuses on solutions for the aggregates industry.


February 12, 2013
By Andrew Macklin


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Understanding how the aggregates industry can both harm, and protect,
source water near and below pits and quarries, has been a subject of
in-depth study by the Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association.

Understanding how the aggregates industry can both harm, and protect, source water near and below pits and quarries, has been a subject of in-depth study by the Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. The results of that research have been presented in case studies released by OSSGA dealing with Water Supply and Aggregate Extraction. The case studies were presented at Source Water Protection for the Aggregates Industry, a one-day seminar hosted by OSSGA to educate municipal officials and aggregates industry personnel on the issues and misconceptions surrounding pits and quarries located near municipal water sources.

A review conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in 2006 regarding the role of the aggregate industry in the context of Source Water Protection drew attention to the need for further research of the impact of aggregate operations on municipal drinking water systems. As a result, OSSGA took the lead to conduct a series of case studies that focused on aggregate operations that are within close proximity to municipal drinking water resources.

It was determined by OSSGA that just 57 of the 5,951 aggregate sites in Ontario were seen as vulnerable to local water supplies. The vulnerability was calculated as any site where water would travel from the aggregate site into the municipal system within two years. The case studies conducted by OSSGA focused on five of the 57 Ontario sites.

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The result of those case studies confirmed that, between 2005-2010, the municipal water systems near each of the five aggregate operations were not adversely affected. There was no evidence found that suggested the aggregate operations had contributed to poorer water quality in those watersheds during the course of the pit’s or quarry’s operation. However, under the Ministry of the Environment regulations, some pits and quarries do possess secondary activities on their property that are seen as potentially significant threats, such as septic systems and on-site fuel storage.

Those findings line up with industry standards already presented by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.

Under Ontario’s Clean Water Act, the only real operational threat to water resources found on aggregate production sites is storage and handling of fuel. The MOE states that only spills of 100 litres or more have to be reported. However, that has still led some aggregate producers, such as Lafarge, to produce their own in-house environmental policy. That policy is meant to build on MOE regulations by implementing best practices at their pits and quarries across Ontario.

The information presented in the case studies should assist municipalities across Ontario responsible for creating Source Protection Plans. The Source Protection Plan is a “collaborative, locally-driven, watershed-based drinking water source protection plan.” The plans are created in co-operation with the local conservation authorities and citizens within the affected communities. The end purpose of each plan is to ensure that current and future water sources are protected.

According to Lynn Dollin from the South Georgian Bay Lake Simcoe Protection Region, investments made provincially have given municipalities a better understanding of their water supplies.

“That information has significantly improved technical understanding and access to watershed information,” said Dollin.

But while communities have a greater knowledge of the challenges facing their watershed, the approaches taken by each individual municipality can vary, creating a new difficulty as Source Protection Plans are being created.

“Watershed boundaries create challenges for municipalities that straddle borders,” said Dollin. “As a result, there is a divide between locally developed ideas for source protection versus consistency across the province.”

That divide could create the potential for confusion among aggregate producers, as each protected region could potentially provide a new set of hoops to jump through in order to meet the demands of the individual source water protection plans. Conversely, the introduction of SWP plans in each municipality in a vulnerable region of the province will allow pit and quarry owners to clearly understand their part in the protection of water resources in each individual community.

The research provided by the Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association now provides aggregate producers from across Ontario, and across the country, with solid information for understanding the impact operations have on municipal water sources. That information could be invaluable as producers from across Canada work to resolve misconceptions surrounding water quality, and allow operators to get back to the business of producing high-quality aggregate.