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New Bothwell battles well water problems

Cheese plant water usage prompts criticism

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 08/6/2018 8:00 AM

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Well water problems issues by some New Bothwell residents may be frustrating, but are also an opportunity for property owners to learn more about private well maintenance, according to a hydrogeologist with Friesen Drillers Ltd.

RM of Hanover chief administrative officer Luc Lahaie said eight formal complaints have been received from ratepayers this summer, ranging from water shortages to discolouration and pressure losses.

Friesen Drillers’ Jeff Bell said aquifer levels are influenced by several factors, from climate conditions like snow melt and barometric pressure to high usage from nearby industrial licence-holders.

He encouraged domestic well owners to ensure their pump and supply lines are in good working order before pointing the finger at the province, a municipality, or a licensed groundwater user.

"Very few people do any sort of private water well maintenance on their individual wells," Bell observed this week.

"There could be any number of reasons why a well would run out of water or a pump would quit working."

Some wells are buried and not easily locatable, Bell explained, while others are accessible but may have gone uninspected for years, meaning service work, pipe and pump upgrades, and shock chlorination treatments could be long overdue.

New Bothwell’s well water complaints have prompted two joint statements from the RM of Hanover and Town of Niverville.

On June 29, after working with the Manitoba Water Services Board to examine six initial formal complaints, the municipalities said "extremely dry conditions" were impacting regional bedrock aquifer levels, but assured the public New Bothwell had an "abundance of groundwater availability."

The community’s well water is drawn from "one of the largest aquifer systems in Manitoba," which extends from The Pas to the United States, Bell said.

Fluctuations do occur, but modern submersible electric well pumps typically handle variations better than older single line and two-line suction pumps, Bell said.

"I think most of these wells that are having issues are very old wells, because nobody’s complained that has a fairly new one," RM of Hanover reeve Stan Toews said Wednesday. According to Niverville and Hanover, individual pumping setups were to blame for problems in two wells that were locatable.

In a July 24 release, the municipalities said results from a provincially commissioned "well interference investigation" disproved a rumor that increasing aquifer demand from Niverville’s new groundwater supply, located one mile west of New Bothwell, was causing the well problems.

Instead, the municipalities said the interferences were "directly related to another licensed groundwater user, located within the community of New Bothwell."

While Lahaie, Bell, and Manitoba Sustainable Development said they were unable to share the investigation conclusions, Lahaie pointed to a publicly available July 2017 Friesen Drillers study, prepared in the run-up to Niverville’s groundwater expansion project, that named Bothwell Cheese as the license-holder in question, saying its well "is creating as much as 16 feet of drawdown in the village."

However, the report concluded groundwater conditions in the area could support both the cheese plant and Niverville’s new well field, adding the company had a plan bring it back into compliance.

The report also advised Hanover and Niverville to develop a "groundwater interference program" to establish procedures for dealing with domestic well-related complaints.

Bothwell Cheese did not respond to interview requests, though Toews confirmed the cheese plant was the licensed user alluded to in the July joint release.

"They have been using way more water than they’ve been licensed to, and it’s in the hands of the province to regulate that," Lahaie said.

A Sustainable Development spokesperson said Bothwell Cheese holds an industrial user licence for 50 cubic decametres per year, and reported 94 cubic decametres of water usage in 2017.

Hanover first learned the cheese plant was exceeding its allocation last year, after reviewing the Friesen Drillers study, Toews said.

The department’s Water Use Licensing branch has received an application from Bothwell Cheese to increase its allocation, with a decision to follow a hydrogeological assessment in the plant’s vicinity, the spokesperson said. Branch representatives also plan to meet with Bothwell Cheese later this week.

In the meantime, Lahaie called well complaints aired on social media "very frustrating for administration and council," who want to help ratepayers relay concerns to the proper channels.

Neither municipalities nor residents own the aquifer beneath their feet, Bell noted, with groundwater licence enforcement in the province’s hands.

If data show a licence-holder’s water use has negatively affected domestic well owners in the vicinity, a compensation program will result, Niverville and Hanover stated in June.

Hanover has asked residents to send private well issues via email to wateruse@gov.mb.ca, and the province recommends homeowners have their wells protected, inspected, and tested regularly as part of a private well maintenance regime.

Topical factsheets, educational videos, and a booklet on groundwater and well maintenance basics are available for download on the Sustainable Development website.

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