by SUSAN MANN
Farmers with water taking permits in the Whiteman’s Creek area of Brant and Oxford counties may face mandatory water restrictions because of ongoing low water levels.
Dave Schultz, Grand River Conservation Authority communications manager, says the local low water committee is writing a report recommending the Ontario water directors’ committee, made up of senior officials from various ministries such as environment, natural resources, agriculture and municipal affairs, declare the creek a Level 3. That’s the top level of the province’s three-tiered Low Water Response advisory system used to inform the public about low water conditions. The system has been in place since 2000.
If the Level 3 is declared for Whiteman’s it will be the first time a watercourse in Ontario has been under such a declaration, Schultz says.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales, who sits on low water response teams for the Kettle, Catfish and Big Otter creeks located on the northern shore of Lake Erie, says they have a number of concerns about the system. One is who will compensate farmers for losses if they can’t water their crops under a Level 3 declaration?
For farmers with crop insurance, government policy isn’t an insured peril like drought, disease, floods and pests, he says.
Another concern is once a Level 3 is declared, the province could technically stop a farmer from irrigating out of both the creek and his pond, Wales says. “As committees we’ve always urged a balanced approach if they choose to go to Level 3,” he says, explaining they’ve suggested things like car washes shouldn’t be a priority.
Whiteman’s Creek, which was declared a Level 2 earlier this summer, flows into the Grand River between Paris and Brantford. This year’s hot, dry summer means water levels in the creek have dropped to less than one-third of normal, which is one of the trigger points of going to a Level 3 declaration, the authority says in a press release.
There’s also a high demand for water from the creek. There are 130 permits to take water issued in the Whiteman’s Creek area, most are to farmers taking water from wells, ponds or directly from the creek to irrigate fruit, vegetable, tobacco and specialty crops, the release says.
In the Grand River watershed, four rivers and streams were added on July 18 to the list of areas where Level 2 condition has been declared: the Upper Speed River, Eramosa River, Fairchild Creek and Mount Pleasant Creek. They join Whiteman’s Creek and the Nith River, which were declared a Level 2 earlier this summer. The remainder of the Grand River watershed is still at Level 1.
The Grand River watershed’s low water response team, made up of local water users’ representatives, has the authority to make declarations for Level 1 and 2. Requests to users for conservation are voluntary for these levels. For Level 1, users are requested to cut back their water use by 10 per cent while for Level 2 it’s 20 per cent. But only the Ontario water directors’ committee can make a Level 3 declaration and the provincial government enforces mandatory water restrictions. The provincial committee works with the local low water response team to determine the type of water restrictions to put in place.
For farmers, provincial water taking permits are required for crop irrigation particularly if someone is taking more than 50,000 litres of water from a watercourse, well or pond in one day. Other users, such as aggregate operators, golf courses, fish farms, water bottlers and other industries, also require permits. Municipalities have permits for their water systems so conservation applies to those customers too.
Water taking permits aren’t required for domestic farm use or livestock watering, Schultz says.
Schultz says what they’re trying to do is manage available water to ensure “everybody can get what they need to carry out their business.” They also look at the potential for environmental impacts, such as the need for farmers to get their crops off and for people to retain jobs at golf courses or aggregate pits. BF