SIMCOE, ONT. - It’s a problem that’s affected scores of remote northern First Nations reserves, but now a town in southern Ontario is facing the challenge: clean up its drinking water or find a new supply, a county official has warned.
Simcoe, Ont., about two hours southwest of Toronto, is surrounded by lush farmland, and that’s the source of the problem for the nearly 15,000 people in the town, said Bob Fields, manager of environmental services for Norfolk County.
Runoff from fertilizers and manure used on surrounding farms, as well as from gardens and private septic systems, have contaminated the city’s municipal water supply with nitrates.
The levels are already halfway to those allowable under current standards, Fields said.
Samples from city wells found levels of nitrates to be four to five milligrams per litre. Regulations allow for up to 10 mg.
“If it rises, we will have to look at alternative sources,” Fields said. “If we can’t reduce those numbers, we will have to find sources with not as high a level of nitrates.”
The county intends to work with farmers, businesses, and residents living close to the wells to try to reverse the trend.
“It’s taken decades to get that high. It will probably take that long to fix. It will be a long, slow process,” Fields said.
He said municipal officials will avoid being “heavy-handed” with property owners and will consult with them to develop “risk management plans.”
A plan to protect water sources for the city and surrounding county is already five years in the making - one of many plans across the province under legislation intended to prevent another disaster like the one in Walkerton, Ont., more than a decade ago.
Seven people died and another 2,500 were sickened after E. coli bacteria wound up in that town’s drinking water.