County audit shows value in water quality program

April 25, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By James Matthews

It’s better to take steps to ensure clean water at its source rather than through treatment afterwards, Dufferin County councillors were advised last Thursday. And the Rural Water Quality Program has some of the funding and many of the ideas as to how landowners can maintain the integrity of waterways on their properties.

The Dufferin Rural Water Quality Program is a cost-shared program to protect and improve water quality on private lands.

“It’s not a new concept, although it’s new to Dufferin County,” Louise Heyming, the supervisor of conservation outreach at the Grand River Conservation Authority, told Council during its April 11 meeting.

“It’s based on the idea that it’s economically an advantage to keep water clean at the farm or landscape scale rather than at treatment.”

Working with landowners to properly decommission water wells on a property was an example of how to have a hand in maintaining ground water quality.

After new wells are drilled, the old one may be kept as a backup by landowners, but they fall into disrepair over time. Proper well decommissioning helps protect the ground water.

“A well that’s not in use is supposed to be decommissioned, but often that does not happen,” Ms. Heyming said.

Between 2012 and 2015, about 26 projects were completed with landowners through the program. It was launched again in 2017 with a five-year commitment, subject to annual funding approval.

“It fills a gap in the landscape in terms of stewardship funding and supporting landowners to implement projects to project our water quality,” Ms. Heyming said.

Such projects include livestock manure storage, water well upgrades on urban properties, and wetland creation.

“What’s offered in Dufferin County reflects the local priorities and what the local budget is that we have to work with,” she said. “What’s available here (in Dufferin) is different than what’s in Wellington, Waterloo, Brant.”

An audit was completed in 2018 of past water quality projects in Waterloo Region’s lower Conestoga watershed. Of the about 500 projects audited, more than 95 percent were still in place years after implementation, she said.

“So we know there is some value in the long-term investment in these water quality projects,” Ms. Heyming said.

The grant rate range from 50 to 100 percent funding for well decommissioning is seen as an important means to protect the integrity of ground water.

Trees are planted as wind-breaks to help keep the soil in the fields and it provides pollinator habitat. Trees are also planted along waterways as livestock fencing projects.

“You may think the biggest issue is what the livestock are doing while they’re in the watercourse,” she said. “(But) the impact … is the trampling of the banks and the erosion that causes.”

As an illustration, Ms. Heyming included photos in her presentation that showed riverbanks bereft of trees and foliage and widened by livestock. Such widening of a river makes the waterway shallow and warms it. Silt from eroding banks sullies the water.

Tree buffers that keep livestock away from rivers and streams narrow those waterways and they become deepened. The buffer that’s created also helps filter and shade the creek, she said.

Planted trees serve another purpose: Ms. Heyming said 17.4 kilometres of living snow fence has been planted along priority roads in Dufferin County.

“The living snow fence is a strategically planted row of trees to help manage blowing and drifting snow,” she said.


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