Chatham-Kent: land of Black Water — special CBC report
Marc St-Pierre has not been drinking water from his well for four years since the water came out black.
December 4, 2017
Report from Radio Canada Windsor by Nicolas Pham, Translated from original French
” We cannot do anything. We used water for everything. I cannot even take a bath. My world is completely upset because of that, “said Marilyn St-Pierre, a resident of Dover Centre. “Our water is finished and our life with it. I cannot even put on a sliding game for my kids and grandchildren, “says Christine Burke, who lives nearby.
Blame the wind turbines
In search of answers, residents’ eyes are quickly turning to wind farm projects being built near their homes. The problems, they say, began at the same time as the work in late 2012 and shortly after construction began on the East St. Clair wind farm at Dover Center.
“At the time, we did not realize what was happening. I did not want to believe that turbines could be involved. ” – Marc St-Pierre
It is only when other neighbors come forward that he realizes the extent of the disaster. All live within 7.5 km, near the wind farm.
Twelve wind turbines stand around the property of Marc St-Pierre, the nearest is located 550 m from his house.
The problem resurfaced in May 2017, just weeks after work began on another wind farm project, North Kent One.
“They do not want to confess. But it’s odd: my well is lost, the neighboring well is lost, the well on the other concession is lost. All is lost since they started with North Wind, “says Lucy Defraeye, another affected resident.
An assumption that Keith Benn, a professional geologist who has worked for many years in the mining industry in Ontario, is happy to believe. According to him, the relationship between the installation of wind turbines and the contamination of wells is obvious.
“It’s circumstantial evidence, okay. But when you have a [pure] water source for years and [transforms] a few days after the construction of an industrial facility. You do not have to be a genius to see that there is a link of cause and effect, “he notes.
“A belief shared by Bill Clarke, a geoscientist licensed in Ontario for 43 years. “We’re making the connection between the construction and the wind farm because that’s the only thing that has changed around Chatham-Kent,” he says.
“There are residents here for generations. This is the first time anyone has noticed problems with water quality. ” – Bill Clarke, Geoscience
An unaccountable company
Marc St-Pierre and seven of his neighbors look to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment in 2013 for answers. Water is declared fit for consumption by government inspectors.
“They did tests to check for bacteria, but they never did any sediment sampling. ” – Marc St-Pierre
Disillusioned and always struggling with black water, they simply decide to install filters, without ever receiving compensation.
The story is different for affected citizens around North Kent One Park. There, the presence of sediment is such that the wells are completely clogged.
Residents turn to Pattern Energy, the project’s owner, who claims it has nothing to do with the problem. According to the company’s engineers, it is impossible for turbine construction to cause such problems.
Gagan Chambal is Director of Works at Pattern Energy. He says that research done prior to the start of the project demonstrates that it is impossible for black shale particles, or anything else, to be transported from construction sites of turbines to wells hundreds of meters away. distance.
The study by the environmental consulting firm Golder Associates does not convince Keith Benn, mainly because it is based on models and not empirical field analyzes.
“A model proves nothing, it only predicts something. If he predicts something wrong, then this model is wrong. And it seems that’s the case here. ” – Keith Benn, geologist
While experts do not fully understand the causes of this situation, many point to the piling technique of wind turbine foundations that would damage the aquifer.
The company is clearing customs, but a few weeks ago, it had delivered to several residents huge water tanks to replace the wells. According to Mr. Chambal, it is a simple step of good neighborliness.
“Under our license, we were only supposed to supply tanks only if it was determined that our construction had an impact on the quality of the water. But being good neighbors, we took proactive steps to help the community. Residents who complain about water quality have access to clean water even during the survey, “he says.
A temporary solution that is far from satisfying residents who are also worried about the safety of this water.
“As for me, it’s a cistern to give water to animals or to work in the fields. [It] is dirty inside. We cannot drink that water, wash our vegetables or cook, “says Lucy Defraeye.
And the arrival of winter does not announce anything to reassure them.
“My tank is outside. Winter is coming, I’m going to get cold water, “adds Calvin Simmons, frustrated.
But beyond the disadvantages, these residents feel abandoned, especially by the government.
A little government listening
Kevin Jakubek is a spokesperson for Water Wells First, a drinking water protection association that has brought together affected residents since 2013. He says the government is not doing its job and should investigate all those wells that have become unusable.
“We have been asking the Ministry of the Environment to investigate for more than a year and a half and they are not investigating. They come, they do some tests, but they refuse to take samples of the pollutant, “he says.
An impression that Marc St-Pierre himself had.
“A ministry inspector came to the house and I showed him the water that came from the well it was coming out black, I asked him to take this to examine it. He did not want to touch. He did not take it. They do not want to know what’s in the water, “he says.
For Mr. Jakubec, it’s just the story that repeats itself.
“People started to notice that their water was black. The government knew about it and they did absolutely nothing.They allowed the construction of another park in another county. And again, there are contaminated wells. ” – Kevin Jakubek, spokeswoman for First Water Wells
Waiting for answers
Citizens are frustrated by their situation.
Even though the government claims that water is completely safe to drink once it has been filtered, experts say it contains heavy metals that are dangerous to health.
“I’ve already been through cancer and my biggest fear is to have another one. ” – Marilyn St-Pierre
What Water Wells First is asking for is that the work be suspended for a long time to identify the source of the problem. Residents have filed complaints with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change that are currently under review.
For Bill Clarke, these steps will take time, a time during which residents will not be able to enjoy the source of drinking water that [they] enjoyed so far.