The topic of water has always been a major concern for Saint-Lazare residents. Because we rely solely on underground water, we need to be certain that our drinking water is protected. We have a lot of information from various Technorem studies and although our mayor has claimed on many occasions that Saint-Lazare underground water resources is just fine (and it may well be), we’ve never looked at the long term capacity or the impact at regional level of consumption on our recharge zone. As well, with climate change, we’re dealing with the unexpected constantly, so we need to be prepared. Considering all this, it would be wise to make sure that we have appropriate understanding and strategies for the future of Saint-Lazare.
GROUNDWATER AND RECHARGE ZONE
In Quebec, approximately 27.7% of the population draws drinking water from groundwater. In Vaudreuil-Soulanges, 54% of the water consumed is groundwater, which is much higher than the provincial average. In the MRC Vaudreuil-Soulanges, 18 out of 23 cities use groundwater as a source of drinking water (all or mixed supply – example: Vaudreuil-Dorion). Saint-Lazare and Hudson (see below: complexes des buttes de Saint-Lazare et Hudson), contribute to 41% of the regional recharge (most of it in the West part of Saint-Lazare). The recharge corresponds to water that infiltrates the soil and reaches the aquifer.
PROTECTION OF SAINT-LAZARE WATER RESOURCES
Protecting aquifer recharge areas is particularly important because it is in these areas that surface water infiltrates into the aquifer. The quality of the water table can be compromised if there is a source of contamination in a recharge area. The entire aquifer system of Saint-Lazare and Hudson is considered vulnerable.
Because groundwater movement is so slow, problems like contamination usually takes a long time to appear. Because of this occurrence, and because of the exorbitant cost to clean a contaminated aquifer (if however, it is possible), it is preferable and by far to prevent in the first place any risk of contamination.
Groundwater resources can be threatened by human activities and the uncertain consequences of climate change. A drop in groundwater levels that could result, for example, from a decrease in recharge due to waterproofing of surfaces, climate change, or the loss of wetlands, could have an overall impact on the water cycle throughout the Vaudreuil-Soulanges region. Also, with the increase in extreme weather events due to climate change, it will become increasingly costly and difficult for these municipalities to combat these changes.
Following the “Forum sur la Vulnérabilité des Eaux Souterraines” held in October 2018 in St-Clet which district 6 councillor Brian Trainor and I attended, it was clear to us that developing regional groundwater management plan was needed. Because we had not heard of any actions or discussions at the regional level on this matter, last October (2019) the six councillors drafted a letter to the MRC asking for a regional action plan aimed at protecting the integrity of aquifers and their recharge areas as well as maintaining the quality of groundwater that benefits all citizens of the region which was then deposited during the regular MRC council meeting. Saint-Lazare elected officials asked for discussions to be initiated with stakeholders and the MRC to find solutions and a common approach.
Since 54% of Vaudreuil-Soulanges consumes groundwater, it is essential to work together. It was obvious that it didn’t make sense for Saint-Lazare to be fully responsible financially and for the responsibility of the protection of the recharge since other neighboring towns also benefit from it.
MRC ACTION PLAN
What we didn’t know was that in December 2018, shortly after the Forum sur la Vulnérabilité des Eaux Souterraines, COBAVER had submitted a project to the MRC to develop a regional groundwater management plan which was being studied. I honestly can’t say if our own mayor was aware of the initiatives as nothing was ever mentioned to the councillors.
In January 2020 (3 months after we had submitted our letter, coincidence or not) to our delight, the MRC passed a resolution to announce a partnership with Sherbrooke University and l’Université du Québec à Montreal which was aimed at:
- Quantify the ecological services of groundwater for drinking water supply, rivers and wetlands
- Quantify the pressure from human activity and climatic pressures exerted on groundwater (current and future)
- Develop management scenarios to ensure the maintenance of groundwater resources in the coming decades
This project responded to several questions and concerns about the quantities of water available and on the protection of the recharge for municipalities on the territory using groundwater as a main source of potable water. This was great news!
When Covid-19 hit, everything changed for so many of us. The financial impacts are mostly unknown at the moment, but we know that budgets need to be monitored and reviewed for most municipalities. Added expenses, potentially less tax revenues, unemployment and the effect on the real estate market will definitely have an impact on most cities. The MRC also felt the need to review its budget. In March, they decided to take certain projects off the table in order to use the money to create an emergency fund for businesses. This initiative was needed no doubt, but Saint-Lazare councillors had no idea of what was happening at the MRC or the details of this resolution until a resident brought it to my attention the second week of June!
We were totally taken by surprise to find out that as part of these budget modifications, “all” the MRC mayors had voted to remove this important underground water study.
What I’m questioning is, why didn’t our mayor fight to keep this very significant study? Why would he vote to remove it knowing its importance for our town? There are no other towns in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges territory which are as impacted by this study as we are. Additionally, the project was to get a subsidy for about $250,000 (50% of the cost of the project). The financial contribution was around $3000 per year for 4 years for each of the 18 towns involved in the study. Not only was this study massively important, but the cost to each town was minimal. Couldn’t the MRC find other projects of less importance to cut?
Another question we need to ask ourselves, why did the mayor stay silent about this for almost 3 months when the subject of water was brought up continuously by residents and the councillors? When questioned about this, he claimed that he had forgotten about it. If water is such a priority, how can one forget to mention these changes, especially when the subject was brought to his attention at every council meeting? Why wasn’t he as outraged as I am?
Of course, the MRC could possibly bring back this study, but it will be much more difficult to convince the mayors of the MRC to vote again for this study once it has been withdrawn. We do not know how long COVID-19 will be with us and budgets will be tight for a while. The longer we wait for this study, the less important it will be for mayors who do not feel its direct impact on their daily lives. The more the region develops, the more we take risks with the future of our drinking water if there is no planning. I am really disappointed and discouraged by the lack of representation that we have at the regional level and you dear citizens, should be too!