Ashfield Lakefront Association
(First published in printed format prior to the municipal elections. This version does not contain election info.)
This newsletter is being delivered to the home address of almost 840 permanent and seasonal residences along the lakeshore in Ashfield Township, as well as 45 Colborne lakeshore residents for whom ALA had a home address.
We start with an overview of the ALA prepared by Mike Uniac, who is the current President. Mike will review how the ALA got started and the current membership. As well, he provides a general overview of the 3 current areas of focus for the ALA - the upcoming Nov 13 ELECTION and the new opportunity to vote-by-mail, the ENVIRONMENT (water quality), and the ongoing effort to improve and expand COMMUNICATIONS to our members. The remainder of this newsletter will focus on these 3 themes.
"ALA"is simply a gathering of representatives of each of the participating lakefront associations. It serves as the vehicle with which, as a single group and a single voice, these otherwise individual groups have the opportunity to effectively deal with many of the issues that are common to all. At the present time there are 20 lakefront associations in Ashfield Township, with approximately 570 lakefront residences, and approximately 1000 taxpaying electors represented.
Over the past several years, ALA has been dealing with environmental issues such as the contamination of our lake and groundwater. ALA continues to support P.R.O.T.E.C.T. in its battle against pollution from the agricultural sector, particularly from the recently introduced "intensive livestock operations" (also referred to as "factory farms"and "mega farms"). A couple of ALA directors are also active members of P.R.O.T.E.C.T. More recently, ALA has begun discussions with the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority to promote the introduction of a systematic program for regularly monitoring the water quality of stream water flowing into our lakefront. As well, ALA is encouraging improved controls including systematic inspection of all (rural and lakefront) septic systems. The issue of septic systems hits closer to home, and we need to do our part to ensure that our own lakefront community is not contributing to the pollution problem we now face.
More recently ALA was actively involved in helping to secure the mail-in ballot for the upcoming Nov 13 municipal election for the new amalgamated community of Ashfield, Colborne & West Wawanosh. We have been faced in the past with a very great deal of apathy from within the lakefront community concerning local and municipal affairs in our area. There are some reasons for this. For example, we have lacked the information on the affairs of our municipality, and elected officials are little known to us. As well, municipal elections have been very low key, and held in November when the vast majority of our residents are miles away from the lake, and unable to travel back to Ashfield to vote.
The mail-in ballot now provides everyone with the ease and convenience of casting their vote from their own home. There is no reason for anyone not to participate in the electoral process. What is needed now is information...information on the candidates and the issues, to enable you to make an informed decision. ALA has undertaken to fill this void in the process, by seeking out prospective candidates and obtaining information on these people and on their particular views on certain key issues, and then sharing this information with you. ALA has also established a web site to enable, as a public service, any and all candidates to publish their own story for the entire community to view and consider.
There are opportunities for the ALA to improve and expand on communications to the lakefront community. First, with the help of the member associations we need to implement a process for ensuring we can routinely maintain an up-to-date home address directory for our periodic newsletters. As well, adhoc communications to the approximately 50% of our members who probably have e-mail is a a new opportunity ALA would like to initiate. Finally, ALA has begun exploring the benefits of, and an approach to, combining our common efforts with neighbouring lakefront groups in Colborne Township. With the upcoming amalgamation of the townships, it would seem to make sense to align our activities.
Provided there is strong support and participation from our members, the ALA can continue to be active and effective in addressing the issues that affect and are of concern to the members it represents.
*Note: Mike Uniac and his wife Diane have made the decision just recently to move back to Waterloo in November 2000. Mike, through his personal leadership and energy, has made a significant contribution to the ALA, which has been gaining momentum over the past 4 years. Those of us, who have had the opportunity of working with Mike, will miss our regular association with him and Diane. On behalf of the ALA team and membership we wish them both well.
There has always been a concern for the quality of our drinking water and beach environment. This concern has been pushed to upper limits by the recent tragedy in Walkerton, the influx of factory farms in our county and our recent awareness that most of our government agencies exert significant authority but accept minimal responsibility.
Lake pollution was at an all-time high at some beaches this summer. Reasons for the sudden spike in e.coli levels are numerous. Some factors are low lake levels, run-off from high volumes of rain, high wave action which stirs up sediments on the bottom of the lake where bacteria is housed, as well as the arrival of the mega-farms.
The opposition to mega-farms is well represented by the local group, PROTECT. They are expressing our feelings in an eloquent but reasoned fashion. They deserve our unanimous support through communication, donations and attendance at their public meetings.
Let's look at the longer-term problem of ongoing pollution of our streams and lake. Huron County Health Unit records from 1990-1997 show that a high percentage of the weekly summer lake water tests were in excess of the Provincial Water Quality Guidelines (PWQG). Amberley failed 47% of the time and Port Albert failed 42% of the time. In other words, 45% of the time you were swimming in water that had excessive levels of e.coli bacteria.
These appalling numbers occurred before factory farms. The arrival of these factory farms will only make an ugly situation worse. The long-term pollution levels are the direct result of sewage coming from up-stream farms of all sizes, and septic systems serving both rural residences and cottages along the shore. Stream testing this summer produced pollution levels as much as 190 times the PWQG limits. Beach testing often showed levels several times the limit. (See Beach Data on this website.)
Our association intends to combat this ongoing stream pollution through systematic testing until the sources of the pollution are identified and eliminated. Preliminary meetings with Maitland Valley Conservation personnel and the Huron County Health Unit have produced assurance of cooperation and guidance. A further planning meeting is scheduled with the Maitland Board on Oct 18.
ALA also intends to combat beach pollution by recommending mandatory certification of septic systems for all of Huron County. A recent study conducted by the University of Guelph for the Huron County Surface Water Coalition showed that, on average, 1/3 of rural septic systems have some level of pollution problem. As well, studies in Michigan, Washington and other jurisdictions show similar or more serious problems. Recently, an Ontario MPP has indicated that the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) intends to soon release legislation requiring all Ontario communities to do mandatory septic system testing.
Lakeshore residents have been accused of believing the problem is NOT IN MY BACKYARD. Let's adopt an attitude that no pollution is acceptable whatever the origin -- farm, municipality, business or residence.
Note: Municipal treatment systems can also be a contributor. For example, the system for the town of Goderich, has exceeded its storage capacity several times this year because heavy rainfall enters the system through combined storm and waste sewers. When this occurs, Goderich is forced to go into bypass mode, which causes partially or totally untreated sewage to enter the lake directly. Goderich is aggressively working on the problem. Note that the lake currents actually flow south to north along the shoreline (even though they flow north to south farther out in the lake), so pollution from Goderich can affect us. Goderich is only an example. There are other municipal systems along our rivers that also need upgrading.
This new legislation by the Province of Ontario will have a significant impact on all community and private shared well distribution systems for 6 or more residences.
In mid September ALA issued a 2-page Bulletin to the contact for each of the ALA 20 member cottage associations to ensure they were aware of some of the details in the Proposal for New Legislation, and to assist them with their further follow-up. That bulletin also gave a number of reference sources.
We know there are many shared well systems of varying sizes along the lakefront. These could be operated by the Township, under contract to a private business operator, or a cooperative arrangement by private individuals. The changed legislation impacting all of these systems will happen very quickly.
This newsletter will provide a summary of the information in the Bulletin to ensure all lakefront owners are generally aware of the new legislation. Further information should come from those operating these shared well systems on your behalf.
These new rules could well prove to be too onerous for smaller systems to take on, and many may turn to the Township for help. As well, many of us on shared well systems have enjoyed good quality drinking water at low cost. We should anticipate that a more rigorous set of procedures will likely result in an increase in costs.
Most of those who are following this issue don't believe the answer is for everyone to put in a private drilled well. First, it would be very costly. Even more importantly, punching hundreds of holes into the aquifer simply creates that many more opportunities for pollution to enter our water source. So the question is "Who will manage the shared well systems we have to these new guidelines?".
Quite frankly, there are a number of people who believe the government should come up with a "common sense" set of rules for smaller, privately operated shared well systems. No one is going to argue, after the example of Walkerton, that we need the protection of standards that are enforced. The question is whether a "one-size fits all" policy for well systems really make sense?
Much of the written material published to this date is of a highly technical nature, and difficult to follow easily. Many of the key issues are under active discussion with the various governmental departments and agencies involved, and the final form may well change. In the final analysis, the owner operator of the affected water delivery systems will be responsible for compliance with these new laws.
The following is a brief recap or general guide, as best as ALA understands them, to the key points contained in the government publications. Each well association should do its own follow-up.
All communal water systems supplying 6 or more residences will have to be inspected and approved by an authorized engineer, licensed by the government to operate, be upgraded or replaced, to meet whatever deficiencies are found, have a chlorination system installed, be operated by a trained, licensed operator who will conduct frequent and regular inspections and water sampling with very stringent reporting, and where necessary, corrective action steps implemented, and that the owner(s) of such systems is fully responsible, and further that an action plan detailing how the owner/operator plans to do all of this be provided to the government by Oct 31, 2000, and the system by fully operational in all aspects by Dec 31, 2002, and that the full costs for capital costs and operations be paid for by the consumer.
MOE charges against Acre-T Farms On Oct 5, there was agreement between the two parties to proceed to trial starting Jan 15, 2001. Ten days have been allowed to hear the evidence. This trial relates to two separate spills that occurred between May 1 to 13, 1999, and were the subject of a PROTECT public meeting Sept 2, 1999 at the Kingsbridge Church
Ontario Proposal for Strict Environmental Safeguards for Agricultural Practices - On July 10, Minister of Agriculture Ernie Hardeman issued a proposal for strict environmental safeguards for agricultural practices. The document provided directional conclusions from the Galt/Barette public hearings in Jan/Feb 1999. The Minister requested further input by interested parties by Sept 15 on several aspects of the proposal. (See ALERT web site for details). Common speculation is that a draft of the new legislation will be available this Fall, but we won't see the new legislation in final form until Spring 2001.
Interim Control Bylaw-On June 26 - Ashfield Township implemented an Interim Control By-law putting a temporary (12 months) moratorium on new or expanded liquid-manure intensive livestock operations of 100 livestock units (LU) or greater. An identical Colborne Interim Control By-law followed in August. Note: Livestock Units are used to approximate the waste equivalent among different animals. For example, 100 LU = 400 finishing hogs or 2000 young weaners.
Interim Control Bylaw being challenged. Country Pork appears to have strong interest in building an additional 450 livestock unit (LU) nursery facility with a liquid manure system in our community. (450 LU = 9000 weaner pigs). A successful challenge could well set the stage for further continued expansion.
Country Pork filed a complaint against the Bylaw with the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board in August. The lawyers for the 2 parties recently cancelled an October 6 hearing in Holmesville, presumably because there was also a court case pending on the same matter.
Country Pork also made an application in August for a hearing before the Superior Court of Justice to have the Interim Control Bylaw quashed and a building permit issued for the 450 livestock unit nursery facility. The court date is now set for October 23 and 24 in London.
A couple of related items:
Walkerton Inquiry In Sept, Justice O'Connor, Commissioner for the Inquiry, granted the Sierra Club, Eastern Canada Chapter and the ALERT coalition, along with Canadian Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Legal Defense Fund, standing at the Walkerton Inquiry. The inquiry focuses on the circumstances which caused hundreds of people to become ill and several of them to die, as well as any other issues relevant to the safety of Ontario's drinking water generally. In his decision Justice O'Connor wrote, "In order to ensure that all important points of view are represented, I grant standing to an environmental group to deal with environmental issues relating to farming and agriculture".
This final section will cover three main topics. The first discusses the communications potential of a strong ALA. The second openly discusses a few challenges that the ALA faces in meeting those opportunities and how you can help. Finally, there is a form you can complete that will provide valuable contact information to add to a new database and improve our future communications to you. (Note: An on-line form will be posted at a later date.)
The lakefront community (Colborne and Ashfield combined) probably represents over 25% of the electors in our newly amalgamated community. Currently, it is the most poorly informed group because it is largely seasonal, doesn't have well-established informal networks into the community, and most people don't even subscribe to a local newspaper. The ALA has the potential to be a powerful tool to overcome some of these communication deficiencies. Imagine the benefit if we could:
These are only some examples of what could be accomplished.
The ALA is at a crossroads. If we are to continue we must address the following: