Category Archives: Ideas

The price of water

Water is free, keeping it clean costs

When a small western Ontario town started getting sick, it caught the attention of the local media.When the source of the illness turned out to be the water, it caught the whole province’s attention. When, after four Walkerton residents, including a two-year-old girl had died and hundreds had been sickened, we learned that the disaster could have been averted, it shook the nation.

We have to trust our water supply. There’s no getting around the fact that we need water to live. So Ontario came up with a solution to prevent the tragedy at Walkerton from being repeated. That solution came in the form of the Clean Water Act.

The Act divided the province into watershed systems, run by regional committees made up of local governments, conservation authorities and private citizens. Each area was responsible for mapping the area around municipal water sources, identifying contamination hazards within a zone surrounding the water sources, and eliminating or managing those hazards.

Here in the County, the source water project is run by Keith Taylor of Quinte Conservation. This watershed system, which runs almost as far north as Bancroft, includes the system feeding the Moira River, the Bay of Quinte and Prince Edward County.

In Walkerton’s case, the contamination was a farm just outside the municipal boundaries. The farmer’s cows were grazing dangerously close to the town’s water source, but the farmer didn’t know the well existed—it was covered with brush—and the town officials failed to consider contamination issues from outside the municipality. They forgot that, regardless of borders and boundaries, water travels.

In the County the biggest hazard comes not from cows, but from human beings. The Quinte Region Source Protection Committee has presented a plan that would require anyone living within the source water zones to have their septic tanks inspected and, if necessary, upgraded to meet safety guidelines.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of houses around here without municipal sewage, so eliminating septic systems is not an option,” said Taylor. “But inspecting and upgrading those septic systems is. There are some people who have discovered they don’t have a septic system at all, they just have a pipeline into the ground or a 45-gallon drum, things just do not work properly.”

Once the plan is approved, it will be incorporated into municipal planning documents and enforced annually. If any residents choose not to co-operate, the municipality or the conservation authority can take action.

“The Clean Water Act has got teeth,” says Taylor. “The inspections to the septic system is a change to the building code, so the building inspectors have the right to inspect. So someone can try and do that, but they’re not going to be successful. I’ve had some calls from people who aren’t happy about this, but generally people realize that something like Walkerton can reduce the values of everyone’s home and cause huge health risks – seven people died – it’s absolutely not acceptable to not respect sources of drinking water.”

There are subsidies for the cost of inspecting and repairing a septic system. The water stewardship program, run by the province, can provide rebates of up to 80 per cent of the cost of the job. But you have to apply for the grant, and you have to prove you need it.

“It’s really a case of fiscal ability,” said Commissioner of Public Works and a member of the Source Protection Committee Robert McAuley. “If you have the ability, they won’t offer you funding, but if you don’t have the ability, you might get some money.”

It would be up to each municipality to determine how to handle costs. The provincial government feels users of municipal water should be responsible for their own costs, but it is possible for a municipality to handle the cost of inspectors, or work something out with its residents.

“The municipality [covers the cost]” said Mcauley. “It’s all part of our global waterworks systems. And they all operate as one entity, so if you want, all six are paying for the cost. Council has said publicly that they want to know if government will assist with funding but I don’t think they’ll take over the costs. The government has been very clear about user cost.”

So is it worth the cost? McAuley admits that the plan runs the risk of making water expensive. But that expensive water would be safer and require less chemicals to treat.

“Expensive water is always an issue for people,” said McAuley. “But if it’s something we have to do, and the water is a user pay system, then the users will have to pay for it.”

So why do we have to do it?

“To avoid another Walkerton. Source protection is one of the obvious solutions.”

Litterbugs

It’s a gorgeous evening at Massassauga Point. The breeze coming off the Bay is cooling off the day’s intense heat. The sound of small waves massaging the rocks is perfect for melting away the day’s stress.

A red van, a Pontiac Montana, pulls up in the parking lot. It stops, the door opens. A panting dog looks up, waiting to say hi to the hiker or the dog walker about to emerge into this magical evening.

But no one emerges; the door just shuts and the van pulls off. All that’s left are two Reid’s Dairy Styrofoam cups, straws, and sticky brown liquid oozing out onto the dirt.

“It’s not an uncommon situation,” said Terry Sprague, naturalist for the Quinte Conservation Authority. “It’s just irresponsibility. People will dump their garbage where and whenever they want. That’s why there’s so much garbage by the roadside. They have absolutely no respect for other people’s property, laws, or anything, and you’ve got to wonder, do they do this in their own home? Very mysterious people.”

Massassauga Point is one of the County’s nine conservation areas. Situated at the northeast corner of Ameliasburgh ward at the end of six kilometres of dead-end road, it’s not a place you get to on the way to somewhere else.

The tiny piece of land at the end of the road was once a hotel and a limestone quarry. The quarry hasn’t been in use since the 1950s. The hotel was closed in 1934 and subsequently dismantled. In 1971 the land was sold to the Quinte Conservation Authority.

In 1990, after decades of damage and disrepair, the area was restored by the newly formed Friend of Massassauga, who raised funds to make the location what it is today.

Massassauga Point isn’t just a place to hike, ski or play with your dog. It also houses a Bur Oak savannah, a globally rare and important ecosystem.

Six years ago the Friends of Massassauga put in an Osprey Nesting Project, tall poles cemented into the limestone bedrock at the Point to entice the birds.

The conservation area features a small dirt parking lot, a field, picnic area, outhouse and 2.2 km of trails set against the stony beach of Sand Cove. It also features a conveniently placed garbage bin. A sign in the parking lot says in clear, black letters “take only photos, leave only footprints.”

Why did that van drive more than six kilometres off any main road to drop two styrofoam milkshake containers in a natural, protected ecosystem?

Maybe the passengers were late, visiting someone on Massassauga Road who happens to be violently allergic to milk products. Perhaps an osprey had dropped something unpleasant on their van and this was a sort of retort.

It’s a good thing Ernie and Krista P. live around the corner. They came by to walk their dog, Baskerville, minutes later. As they walked by, Ernie P. picked up the garbage and brought it to the bin.

“I don’t know why people seem to think that they need to get [the garbage] out of their car and onto the road,” says Ernie P., who didn’t want his last name published because he says what he did was not heroic, just a normal thing to do. “It’s a beautiful area we live in and a little consideration can go a long way.”

The couple has seen lots of garbage on the roads leading to Massassauga Point—mostly disposable cups and car tires.They pick up whatever they can. Thankfully, this couple is not alone.

“Especially at Massassauga,” said Sprague, hearing the anecdote. “There are enough people who love it and appreciate what the Friends do enough that they’ll routinely pick up the garbage. Because they want to see the area kept clean.”

“[Littering] is going to get worse as this population grows,” said Sprague. “The best we can do is follow along behind them and clean up like we’re their mothers.”

Ernie P. is nobody’s mother. But as long as there are still people like the driver of that red van, we can be grateful for his effort.

Trouble at home

Some disturbing allegations have recently been revealed to the Times by two nurses, one currently working for the home and one whose position has been terminated. They have asked to remain anonymous.

While some of those claims could not be substantiated, one, a dismaying abuse of power, stands out.

“Stealing from the residents.

That’s been going on for years… And recently there was a lady who was suspended—she’s working there, still,” said one of the nurses. “She stole from a resident who had just passed away. She was stealing for years and admitted it, and they still allowed her to come back.”

The nurses also said that the same nurse accepted cheques by residents, something that is clearly against the home’s policy.

It’s not the first time the facility has dealt with accusations of caregivers stealing from residents, according to Susan Turnbull, the County’s finance chief. She also oversees the operations of McFarland nursing home. Turbull says that each accusation of theft is taken very seriously.

“This is the residents’ home,” said Turnbull. “This is their home. So if they want to put the things that they value, whether it’s something that they sit on, the table beside their bed, or if it’s a piece of jewellery it should be protected and it is protected, as far as I’m concerned.

“I’m aware of some sad situations where we’ve had to deal with that [accusations of theft from residents], and we take that very seriously. We do. I was not aware that that was continuing to happen.”

In any case of allegations of theft against residents, the staff member is suspended and there is an investigation. But if the criteria to prove guilt are not met, the suspension must be lifted. And that does mean that occasionally a person who steals may be returned to work. While that may anger the staff, Turnbull explained, it’s not possible to reveal the reasons behind revoking a suspension, because of employer-employee privacy rules.

“There’s a process for doing all of this stuff,” said Turnbull. “I’m aware that staff have been frustrated, that staff have asked, what are you doing? But I’m sure you can understand, if you were having an issue, you wouldn’t want me telling so and so, well, she’s at step two. It’s a very difficult problem, because of that respect for privacy.”

Turnbull did not comment further because of employee confidentiality, but rather said if any member of her staff had concerns they should address those concerns to her. Inquiries made to the administrator of the facility were directed to Turnbull.

OPP Constable Kim Guthrie pulled out two previous reports in which McFarland Home staff had been accused of stealing from residents.

In August 2008 a resident’s jewellery went missing and although there were no suspects, the report indicated that an unnamed staff member may have been responsible.

In November 2009, both a resident and a staff member reported cash missing. Again, a staff member was suspected, however the matter was dealt with internally, so the police report contained no further information.

Guthrie added that while all thefts should be reported to the OPP, they can’t say how many thefts have gone unreported.