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Great Lakes Article:

Unbottled water not cheap either
By Debora Van Brenk
London Free Press
01/05/04



Water, water everywhere . . . and mega-bucks to make it drinkable. Area municipalities and their taxpayers face multimillion-dollar well and pipeline projects to meet residents' demands and fulfil new provincial rules for more and better water.

And it's one of several issues that highlight, again, how urban and rural -- not just French and English -- represent Canada's other two solitudes.

Londoners turn on their taps and, for the most part, assume the water is just fine.

That's a luxury those living on private wells or on small regional water systems don't enjoy.

Nitrates, E. coli and sediment all have become household words in an area once known for pristine lakes, streams and wells.

But the problem isn't just questionably safe water. It's also low quantities as several dry seasons have left well supplies low.

- South Huron has just decided to improve the supply to Exeter and area by connecting with the Lake Huron pipeline for nearly $12 million.

Council there rejected an option to spend $7 million to upgrade existing wells and drill new ones because that would have left the area short of water in 20 years. With little help from the province to pay for the project, residents' water bills are expected to increase significantly.

- Hensall and Seaforth also are considering piggybacking onto the pipeline, now that South Huron has made its decision.

- Strathroy-Caradoc Mayor Mel Veale has said a pipeline hookup to Lake Huron is one of his big priorities this year. The connection, expected to start in mid-2004, would mean Strathroy-Caradoc could avoid an expensive series of groundwater well improvements. Neighbouring municipalities also have expressed interest in connecting to the system.

- Wardsville, most of which has been under a boil-water advisory for three years, is partly done its link to better water through a pipeline to Lake Erie, with mixed reaction from residents to the improvements so far.

But not everyone is convinced pipelines -- even with intake pipes several kilometres from shoreline and with purification plants -- are the answer.

Well drillers say Great Lakes water is only as healthy as what flows into it -- a view reinforced by recent tests that found animal contaminants in streams and drew national headlines.

Mike McElhone of the Ashfield Colborne Lakefront Association called it "a very substantial problem" that's affecting health and tourism in the area.

The fact water safety is barely on the radar of city people is just one example of a growing gap between urban and rural concerns.

Toronto residents, for example, cited the SARS scare as the top story of 2003.

Rural communities likely would cite the closing of international borders to Canadian beef after the discovery of mad-cow disease in an Alberta cow.

The uncertainty surrounding the discovery of the disease in a Washington state Holstein will cloud 2004 for farms and small towns alike.

Meanwhile, conservationists shudder to think what might happen if an upcoming cull of ash trees along the westernmost Chatham-Kent border fails to halt an advancing army of emerald ash borers. That zone is widely believed to be the bugs' portal to the rest of the province.

Finally, expect to see in 2004 a concerted effort by rural parents to persuade education boards that their local schools are worth saving in the long term, even in the face of declining enrolments.

These issues may be barely perceptible if you live in a city subdivision.

But you may want to give more than a passing thought to whether they're all just someone else's problems when next you drive by your neighbourhood school, turn on your kitchen tap or admire your backyard oasis while cooking a steak on the barbecue.


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