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Out of sight, out of mind?

To The Editor,

Now that Champlain Township has approved the Vankleek Hill (Urban Area) Subdivision’s Draft Plan, all may seem to be in order.

In 1999, the community was designated as an Urban Policy Area by the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) precisely because it was a City, Town, or Village with a population of 1000 or more that had been developed “primarily on the basis of a municipal water and sewer system”.  Since 2005, Champlain Township has kept Vankleek Hill up to date with sewage treatment capacity and technology, securing funds and implementing three projects totaling over $18.5 million: Construction of the Newton Road Waste Water Treatment Plant (2005-2008), Lagoon improvements (2009-2011), and Upgrades to the plant (2015-2018).  The latest upgrades supposedly provide sufficient reserve capacity to accommodate the new Subdivision’s 50% increase in the community’s population (with the Township needing to confirm this to UCPR).

However, there is a vulnerability that may need attention during Vankleek Hill’s ‘urban island’ development: Little Rideau Creek, the destination of all the effluent from Vankleek Hill’s sewage treatment plant.  During periods of drought, the upper part of Little Rideau Creek looks like a dry drainage ditch crossing a farmer’s field and going through the woods, interspersed with pools of stagnant water growing algae and lily pads.

Because the creek has such a low rate of flow for much of the year, emptying of the township sewage lagoon must be done only during spring and fall under flow conditions specified in Ontario Environmental Compliance approval No. 4277-AT4R7Q of December 11, 2017.  Periodic effluent sampling results are reported to the Ontario Clean Water Association which has the power to fine the township for non-compliance.  While there may be mixed responsibility for sewage plant inflows that result in ‘emergency’ bypasses of raw sewage around the plant, is the township exercising responsibility for the ongoing downstream impact of the effluent?

From the lagoon Little Rideau Creek runs generally northeast about eight miles as the crow flies, with the first three miles inside Champlain Township and the remainder inside East Hawkesbury Township.  It empties into the Ottawa River just east of Golf Road.  The actual distance travelled is perhaps 2 or 3 times longer because the Creek meanders and often turns back on itself.  On the Hawkesbury Golf & Curling Club, it becomes the main topographical feature of the golf course.

With Vankleek Hill’s prospective surge in both population and treated sewage effluent, there appears to be no information on Little Rideau Creek’s ongoing capacity to assimilate the effluent without environmental consequences.  It may now be a good time to conduct an Environmental Impact Analysis of the Little Rideau Creek sub-watershed.  UCPR policy encourages such a study but the responsibility for doing it appears to fall on the two Townships concerned.  Most Official Plans espouse the principle of balancing urban development with protecting the environment.  Can we put some weight on the environmental side of the balance?

Donald Turner,
East Hawkesbury

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