By Connor Lynch
NORTH KENT — Residents of Chatham-Kent have been sounding alarm bells about dirty well water after a wind power development company started pile driving into bedrock to install its turbines.
But Chatham-Kent Officer of Health David Colby said that not only is there no evidence that the pile driving caused anyone’s water to go bad, very few people saw their water change colour.
Samsung and Pattern Energy Group finished the 100-megawatt North Kent wind farm earlier this year. Part of the development process to install the turbines involved pounding foundations into bedrock, called pile driving. Local residents, led by the community organization, Water Wells First, have blamed the vibrations from the pile driving for changes to their water quality, including water that’s gone brown or even black or filled with sand. MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex — NDP) was ejected from the provincial parliament in March after bringing in a dirty water sample from a resident and demanding that acting Environment Minister David Zimmer drink it.
According to testing by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, the vibration caused by the pile driving is less than what’s caused by the pumps in the wells, or by passing vehicles, said Colby.
Last year, 179 local well owners agreed to test their wells, Colby said, before during and after the pile driving. There were 16 local well owners who complained to the ministry during that time. Eleven of them had water that was unchanged before and after the pile driving, Colby said. Two of them had cloudy water afterwards. The other three didn’t follow up with the ministry, so the state of their water is unknown, Colby said. Four more residents later complained, bringing the number of residents with dirty water to 20.
For residents who do have sediment in the water, Colby said there are two likely causes: Over-pumping or a damaged well. A ministry report agreed, with two hydrogeologists recommending hiring a well contractor to get at the root of the problem.
Colby is sympathetic to people whose water has gone brown, black, or filled with sand, and agreed that he wouldn’t drink it himself. But the samples he’s seen have settled out to sand on the bottom, with clear water on top. The water certainly doesn’t look good, but an aesthetic problem “is not an issue in the absence of other health problems.”
Area farmer Jessica Brooks complained to the ministry and received a letter on Feb. 1. A ministry investigation concluded there had been a decrease in her well’s “raw water quality,” including both dissolved solids (including shale) and turbidity (how cloudy the water is).
However, the report also concluded that the pile driving was not to blame, given that it was producing less vibrations at the well site than other nearby well pumps. It also found that the well water continued to deteriorate in quality for seven weeks after nearby pile driving was finished.
The numbers don’t support a widespread, systemic problem, Colby said.
Local hydrogeologist Bill Clark thinks that the research ordered by the ministry was inadequate. It was too short-term, and relied too heavily on a conceptual model of the Kettle Point aquifer that Clark thinks didn’t have enough data in it. “It’s all geo-fantasies,” he said. With as many as 20 residents with dirty water, even if turbines ultimately weren’t responsible, “why not follow the precautionary principle,” and call off construction?
University of Windsor research scientist Joel Gagnon was in Chatham-Kent in March to study the aquifer, the water, and try to find some short-term solutions for the 20 residents with dirty water. So far, no luck. “There are people who have spent in excess of $7,000 on filtration devices and they plug up within minutes,” he said.
A Farmers Forum request for comment sent to Water Wells First was not returned by press time, nor were multiple calls to two residents who reported having dirty water.
According to local media reports, some residents around other wind turbine projects, including the North Kent wind farm, have relied on bottled water, as their filters can’t handle the sediment.