By Margaret Brand
Portland residents just learned recently of a five-year-old Ministy of the Environment funded study on their groundwater that suggested fecal pollution could be everywhere in the village.
The results of the study were news to local people until Otty Lake resident Derek Smith, a hydrogeologist, read the article in a technical journal and recognized the ‘anonymous’ village by its topography. The article’s mention of a health centre and a subdivision along with the locations of the monitoring wells in the charts offered plenty of clues.
After Rideau Lakes Township was alerted to the article, which included authors from Queen’s University, the Leeds, Grenville & Lanark health unit was called to take the lead on the findings.
A flyer published this week by the Public Health Unit will seek to assure village residents there is no widespread water quality concern in their community.
Of almost 200 recent water samples submitted for testing to the Lanark Leeds Grenville Public Health Unit only three had poor tests which were of any significance stated the health unit to Rideau Lakes personnel in a conference call on Tuesday.
The study’s conclusions also suggested that the potability of groundwater resources on a larger scale is unlikely to be determined solely by infrequent domestic well sampling.
The study examined samples over a two-year time period from February 2007 and May 2009.
The Portland case study was published in the National Groundwater Association Journal, and is titled Anthropogenic Impacts on a Bedrock Aquifer at the Village Scale.
At the time, wells were installed on some township properties with the permission of the municipality.
“I’m sure people over the years have had their water tested. This is the first time I’ve heard about problems of quality of water.
“I’m flabbergasted an organization like Queen’s would do a study, find out there were concerns, and not pass that on in a timely manner.
“You can well imagine people are going to be concerned and I want to allay their concerns as soon as possible,” said Mayor Ron Holman.
The results of the study and the dissemination of the results also concerns Smith, who as a hydrogeologist with decades of experience, can’t understand why the information gleaned from the monitoring wells wasn’t released.
“There’s something here which doesn’t make sense. If the people did not know that sporadically their groundwater was contaminated, it’s very serious,” he said.
The article states the study was funded by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment’s Best in Science program.
The conclusion of the study states the source of the contaminants is likely sourced from septic systems and agriculture located in the upland areas where the overburden cover is thin.
“There are low levels of things in the groundwater that are worrisome. In my professional career I have never seen those elements reported. It takes a university laboratory with some high priced equipment to analyze for those things,” said Smith noting the testing for pharmaceuticals and personal care products.
Samples were tested for some parameters at the Environment Canada laboratory in Burlington, Ontario and identified residues of antibiotics only used with animals.
The township’s contact with the public health unit after being made aware of the data prove should reassuring for local residents.
“Before anyone gets panicked-In our discussions it was agreed the data was probably outdated. The main thing is It wasn’t a health study, it was a study to study rock fractures,” said Holman.
“The current data that the Heath Unit has on local samples does not indicate a widespread water quality concern. The Health Unit has reviewed records and found no incidence of higher localized waterborne diseases. The Health Unit will work with the Ministry of the Environment to review and verify the researcher’s data,” stated Township acting CAO Mike Dwyer after a conference call with the health unit of Tuesday.
No boil water advisory or other measures were recommended by the Medical Officer of Health at this time.
Holman is upset the township was left out of the loop if a problem was indicated and is not pleased with a statement in the article which indicates the township did not want the location of the village identified.
“If we were against them why would we be letting them drill wells on our property?”
The township recently dug a well for the use of the Portland Hall after the casing of the old well was collapsing.
“The well was tested. We aren’t getting any false readings at Portland hall. When we drilled a new well they obviously checked groundwater there were no problems,” he said.