Ground Water Canada

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Editorial Winter 2013

Power of the people

January 9, 2013  By Laura Aiken

Whether people understand what flows beneath their feet or not, the Melancthon megaquarry no-deal shows they are willing to fight for it.

Whether people understand what flows beneath their feet or not, the Melancthon megaquarry no-deal shows they are willing to fight for it.

In November, an uber-rich U.S. company rescinded its application to mine aggregate from the plum farmland of Ontario’s Melancthon Township. As widely reported, part of the proposed deal included pumping 600 million litres of ground water daily to dewater the pit, which would burrow roughly 200 feet below the water table. Had the proposed limestone quarry gone through, it would have been
one-third the size of Toronto’s downtown.


Highland Companies, the quarry’s suitor, was amply backed by a U.S. hedge fund and big-deal PR firm. In this case, big bucks did not outdo the people’s brawn. The company press release cited the reason for the application withdrawal as a lack of community and government support.

That’s quite an understatement. Citizen mobility to block this quarry was downright Ferrari-like in its prowess. People are passionate about their land. People are passionate about their water, even when the threats are potential, the implications yet to be seen. It is a good feeling for those of us in the ground water industry to know that.  We all want to see more public awareness for ground water and to see that care and concern tangibly.

Highland is portrayed as a real shyster in this piece. The company bought up 2,400 acres of farmland on the pretext of creating a large potato farm before filing its application to dig, and dig deep. Perhaps if the approach had been honest, there would have been more dialogue and less anger. Nothing like a good lie to snap shut the lines of communication. Suspicious citizens led to the creation of the North Dufferin County Agricultural and Community Taskforce (NDACT) in 2009, specially formed to fight the project. David Suzuki got behind it, as did Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, reported Celebrity chef Michael Stadtländer organized Foodstock and then Soupstock, which rallied the foodies and garnered a lot of awareness about protecting farmland and water. Media outlets reported nearly 70,000 people combined attended those two events.

Typically, and oddly, a quarry builder does not need to do an environmental compliance assessment. One would think boring that deep and wide into the earth, especially when its final height will exceed that of Niagara Falls, would warrant an ECA. This time it did. The Ontario government set a precedent in ordering an environmental assessment of the quarry be done before any mining licence is issued. Not long afterward, Highland pulled out of its proposal.

There was a lot of media hullabaloo over this quarry, and much fanfare over the “foodies” and all the noise they made. Did this cast a shadow over the issue of risk to water with high-profile events that focused on the local food and agriculture? The ground water beneath the proposed site is a significant source of recharge for major rivers in the Hills of Headwaters area. The land is a source of food. It’s easier for people to wrap their heads around the effect of destroying farmland because it’s obvious. You can’t grow potatoes where there is now a hole in the ground. That’s easy to understand and get behind. It’s more difficult to understand the potential impact of all that dewatering, and to grasp where those 600 million litres a day are going to discharge. This is where we see people’s passion come out. Six hundred million litres is a big number, big enough to worry you, whether or not you have any context for that number. The public passion to stop the megaquarry shows that Canadians care deeply about what runs beneath their feet, whether or not they fully understand it.

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