| Apr 16, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - April 16, 2009 Wondering about waste and water?Well Awareness Program provides the answersby Julie Druker

Water and waste experts: (l to r) Mara Shaw, Jana Levison, Titsia Praamsma, Cory Shea, Brianna Rustige and William Vander Wilp.

Judging from the 50+ turnout at the Sydenham town hall on Saturday, March 28 for the Well and Septic Workshop, homeowners are hungry for basic information on building and maintaining their wells and septic systems.

Brianna Rustige, coordinator of the Well Aware Program, an educational stewardship program run by Hearthmakers Energy Co-op in Kingston, hosted the event, which included a number of local experts speaking on various related topics.

Titsia Pramaasma, a hydrogeologist with the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority (CRCA), spoke first about “Groundwater Basics” providing a general understanding of the water cycle, the water table, and infiltration.

She stressed that aquifers are very vulnerable to septic and agricultural contamination. A 1950-1954 Ontario study tested 484 wells and showed that 14% tested positive for nitrates and 15% for bacteria. A similar study done in 1991-1992 on 1200 wells showed nitrates levels had stayed the same while bacteria contaminants increased to 34%. She said, “If you can site your well properly, you can prevent this situation from happening.”

William Vander Wilp, a chemist with MacLellan Water Technology in Odessa spoke next on well construction and maintenance, concentrating on drilled wells.

He focused on important factors such as regular maintenance both by licensed professionals and homeowners. Upgrades are often recommended when wells have been poorly constructed or have been drilled into shallow aquifers, which can be more susceptible to contamination. Often wells drilled prior to 2000 have not been properly sealed and may require a sealing upgrade to prevent surface water from leaching down into the well.

Other simple and inexpensive upgrades include acquiring a pitless adapter or a vermin-proof well cap.

There exist countless old unused wells, which by law are required to be properly decommissioned by property owners to protect water quality. This work should be done by a professional as well.

Jana Levison, a geo-science technician at the CRCA, spoke next about Water Source Protection and the Multiple Barrier Approach. She stated unequivocally, “Protecting water at the source is your first step towards ensuring clean drinking water…It is always better to act preventatively than to have to treat the water at the end of the pipe.”

She outlined simple steps to take at home. Routinely surveying the 100-foot radius around the well and eliminating potential contaminants from chemicals and fuels, lawns and gardens, storage tanks, and animal waste is recommended.

Conservation is always an effective strategy. The “less used, the less abused” rule stresses that conservation ensures both water quality and quantity in the big picture and long into the future.

Mara Shaw, a watershed management coordinator for the CRCA, spoke about the Western Cataraqui Region Ground Water Study, which includes areas of Napanee, Kingston, South Frontenac and Loyalist townships and the 43,000 people in that area who rely on ground water (well water) for their drinking water supply.

Most of South Frontenac falls under an Area 2 designation, meaning it is covered by Precambrian Shield. Shaw stated, “According to the study’s findings, the water quality in the area is generally good.” She added, however, “Sodium levels are sky high although having said that, it is not sky high in terms of health effect numbers. It’s at a level where people who have sodium problems should be made aware of it and let their doctors know.”

How vulnerable is our ground water to contamination? Apparently very. Shaw explained, “In our region with no soil to filter the water through, the water gets into cracks and fractures and goes completely unfiltered to where it is going.”

Red areas on her study maps highlighted the most vulnerable areas in the region of study and included one near Harrowsmith and one south of Sydenham.

In the future official plans may contain regulations to help protect these vulnerable areas. This could include the prevention of the building of gas stations, and landfill sites near them.

Shaw then focused on the importance regular well testing. She recommended testing at least three times a year, which is most effective when done after the spring, heavy rains or after a flood, and always after repairs have been done on a well and/or septic system. Similarly, testing should be done whenever changes in water taste and colour are detected and when a family member is pregnant.

Cory Shea of Shea Construction in Kingston spoke last about septic systems and their maintenance. He reminded the audience, “You are your own waste water management plant.”

He stated the disturbing fact that 30-60% of septic systems inspected in Ontario got failing grades and reminded the group that, “Whoever lies downstream from you gets to enjoy your sewage.“

Systems need to be pumped out every 2-5 years depending on family size. Installing an inexpensive effluent filter, which is now a requirement by law for all new septic systems, will stop oil and grease from clogging up the tile bed and will increase a system’s life span.

Rinsing out tanks when they are pumped is recommended in order to assess them for wear and tear. Only licensed installers should install new systems and make repairs.

Problem indicators include slow drains and sewage backup odor. Everyone should know where their system is located, should strive to conserve water, spread out flow use throughout the day and week, and divert downspouts from the system. Chlorine toilet packs, anti-bacterial cleansers, bleach, cooking grease and paints, including latex, should never enter the system. The ground over a septic system should never be driven or parked on, or used as an ice rink.

Shea was inundated with questions and when the workshop ended most felt armed with a wealth of knowledge of the wonders of water and waste.

For more information, please visit www.cataraquiregion.on.ca and www.wellaware.ca.

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