Ground Water Canada

Wind turbines and water wells, part 2

The data, sampling and provincial policies of well interference.

June 25, 2018  By Bill Clarke

This article presents the relevant data, sampling challenges and provincial policies as they relate to well interference. In this case, interference is looked at in relation to pile-driven construction of wind turbines in the Chatham-Kent area of Ontario. Photo: Fotolia by Adobe Stock

In the previous article (Ground Water Canada, Spring 2018), I summarized the experiences of the private well owners in rural Chatham-Kent, Ont. In this article, I will present the relevant data, sampling challenges and the provincial policies as they relate to well interference.

For most projects concerning ground water contamination, the initial water quality parameters are defined. For this project, there was no indication as to what parameters would be indicators of low-frequency vibrations from either pile driving or wind turbine operation.

As a result, several well owners agreed to a full set of chemical parameters. This database has characterized the ground water in the North Kent 1 area, and the analytical results will serve as a reference for any changes in ground water quality in the future.


It was imperative to obtain ground water samples prior to any construction, in order to obtain background conditions. During the winter of 2016, and then into 2017, there was a rush to sample as many wells as possible prior to any pile driving. This was complicated by the fact that specific construction dates and locations were revealed with a minimum lead time. This meant that ground water sampling had to be modified to reduce the costs, have more residents involved and obtain as many samples as possible in relatively short periods of time “before construction.”

Sampling was simplified to turbidity, total suspended solids, total dissolved solids and electrical conductivity. Three samples were taken at each well.

When a change in water quality occurred after construction was completed, the owners noticed cloudy water and/or dark particulates. I was notified and sampled the well water.

In retrospect, I would have devised a way to sample wells nearest active pile driving locations and then sampled the same wells after pile driving was completed. But that requires willing participation by all parties. Under equitable conditions, the wind tower developers would have initiated this type of monitoring program to support their assumptions.

As a result of the sampling schedule, three wells showed indications of elevated turbidity during pile driving ranging from double to 10 times. In an effort to define the presence of Kettle Point black shale in the well water, samples were submitted to a lab that uses a scanning electronic microscope. The sample with the greatest turbidity increase also showed 47 black shale particles before pile driving, in comparison to 681,939 black shale particles in the same well water after the pile driving was completed. This leads to both questions and serious concerns.

Another investigation was initiated to assess the role of biofouling in private wells. Biofouling is bacterial activity that results in organic “sludge” and often a “rotten egg” smell. Wells with biofouling were treated with a commercial bactericide, and the water quality improved significantly; the presence of black shale was also verified. This investigation continues.

In any event, the excessive turbidity is physically blocking the water in the filters and/or the pressure tanks. By any definition, this is well interference.

The Ministry of the Environment and Energy document “Water Management: Policies, Guidelines, Provincial Water Objectives” states that “The policies and guidelines in this publication are based on the important principles such as the protection, preservation, and sustainability of the province’s water resources for future generations.” This would imply that the existing Chatham-Kent wells fall under these principles.

Section 1.4 goes on to state that “The water management policies and guidelines supporting Provincial Water Quality Objectives are the basis for establishing acceptable limits for water quality and quantity, consistent with the protection of the aquatic ecosystem and the ground-water(sic).” It goes on to say, “A project may have to be altered or scaled down to achieve the appropriate protection of all media.”

Would it not be reasonable to expect the Ministry to apply the “intent” of these guidelines to this type of development?

I was unable to locate a policy, procedure or guideline that dealt with ground water quantity interference problems. Even “Procedure B-9-1: resolution of groundwater quality interference problems,” revised in 1993, does not address ground water quality issues as a result of vibrations. Obviously, wind tower construction and operation need to be examined in the context of various hydrogeological settings.

Throughout this process, there seems to be one assumption that is prevalent (although never stated out loud): that there is a conspiracy by many private well owners in the Chatham-Kent area to show that their wells were visibly damaged contemporaneously, as a direct result of the wind towers. A key assumption of this theory is that ALL of these people had grossly defective wells before the wind towers were constructed, and that these same people saw the perfect opportunity to get together to place the blame on the wind tower construction and operations. It is the only way to explain the disregard for and dismissal of continued cries for help from 21 families!

Bill Clarke graduated with an Honours B.Sc. degree in geology in 1976 from the University of Waterloo. He worked at the Ontario Geological Survey until 1978, and then returned for a masters degree in hydrogeology from U of W. Bill was hired as Conestoga Rovers & Associates Ltd. (now GHD) in 1981. He became an independent hydrogeological consultant in 1986. In 2009, his company Waterloo Geoscience Consultants Ltd. merged with MTE Consultants Ltd. Bill is currently in semi-retirement so that he has time for his five grandchildren and opportunities to teach Nature Connection skills at the Guelph Outdoor School.

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