FARM '17 - Clean Water Project boasts over 2,200 projects
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Even in a tight financial year due to a number of factors, including hosting the International Plowing Match in Walton later this year, Huron County Council felt one project should be resurrected off of the funding scrap heap: The Huron Clean Water Project.
Now, while the Clean Water Project was not on the scrap heap (it had still been fully functioning), an updated version of the budget recommended cutting $100,000 of funding to the project as a cost-saving measure. Many councillors, however, spoke in favour of the program and that funding was reinstated. It was the only program to have its funding reinstated after it has been removed from the 2017 budget.
The program aims to improve water quality in Huron County through various measures and council felt it provided an essential service to residents, landowners and visitors.
Doug Hocking, the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority’s Water Quality Specialist, says the program is growing and it’s important to the county for a wide variety of reasons.
In recent years, the program has changed, Hocking says, to help fund more small projects, rather than just a handful of large projects. That change was made recently out of necessity when the project’s funding was in jeopardy at the time and those involved were looking for ways to stretch the dollars that were there.
At a recent meeting of Huron County Council, Hocking said it was about doing more for the greater good, rather than a specific project here and there. He likened it to a medical procedure, saying that the Authority didn’t want to run into a situation where “the operation was a success, but the patient died”.
The project is carried out by way of a partnership between the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) and the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) with funding assistance from Huron County. It provides eligible landowners up to 50 per cent funding of voluntary stewardship programs. Over 2,200 projects have been completed throughout Huron County over the years.
Through the Huron Clean Water Project, residents have fenced cattle out of 20 kilometres of streams, planted more than 700 acres of trees, established 150 kilometres of windbreaks, upgraded 364 private wells, decommissioned 499 unused wells, decommissioned 91 liquid manure storages, completed 45 forest management plans, completed 642 tree-planting projects, completed 186 erosion control projects and more than 10,000 acres of cover crops have been planted in the first two years of the cover crop incentive category of the project.
The project offers over 15 different categories of projects that are eligible for funding, with one category being open-ended and aimed at innovative public projects that demonstrate improved water quality.
Hocking has been working on various water quality projects for over three decades and says that the Clean Water Project and its predecessors have done a lot of good for the community.
Huron County really began to focus on water quality in 2004, Hocking said, when the Great Lakes were facing significant challenges. With the help of that seed money, the lakes began to recover in 2005 when water quality again became a focus in Ontario, with the provincial government committing funds to improve the lakes.
Clean Water Project-like initiatives, however, have been ongoing in Huron since the 1980s with some projects stretching back to the 1970s when Lake Erie was declared “dead”.
In 1990s, funds to clean up the Great Lakes were allocated and Huron County was one of the major participants in that initiative. Funding would again be cut in 1995. Hocking said it was one of the “early casualties” of Mike Harris’ common sense revolution.
Just a few years later, however, the E. coli tragedy occurred in Walkerton and water quality was again thrust into the spotlight.
In Huron County, a number of different projects focused on the quality of the community’s water before the official creation of the Huron Clean Water Project, which has, since its inception, approved over 3,000 projects, over 2,200 of which have been completed.
To have that high of a percentage of projects completed, Hocking says, is a real feather in his cap, as well as the cap of his equivalent to the south, Kate Monk, the ABCA’s Stewardship, Land and Education Manager.
One of the project’s strengths, Hocking says, is the local decision-making. Those who decide which projects to support are local politicians and conservation authority staff members and he feels that a local body like the Clean Water Project endeavours to work with resident applicants more than if approvals were made in an urban centre far from Huron County. He also says that the local body is far from a rubber-stamping committee. Each project is evaluated in detail and awarded funds on its own merit.
He also says that because the two conservation authorities have staff members well versed in the project, they do all the paperwork. So if completing mountains of paperwork is a barrier to those wanting to take on initiatives, Hocking says it shouldn’t be.
Projects eligible for funding include erosion control measures, rural stormwater management and wetland creation, clean water diversion, fragile land retirement, livestock fencing, manure storage decommissioning, cover crop incentives, community projects, forest management plans and woodlot enhancement, composting toilets and on-site waste water inspections, wellhead protection, well decommissioning, stewardship guide implementation, wetland restoration incentives, municipal wellhead protection area reforestation projects, living snow fences and special projects.
Hocking says that it’s hard to know whether or not the Clean Water Project is making a difference in every corner of the county without testing every drop of water that comes out of the county before it makes its way to Lake Huron, but there are indicators that it could be making those kinds of improvements.
Looking at the number of projects completed against the population of Huron County, Hocking says that over one in every 25 residents has taken the project up on one or more of its initiatives. To see statistics that show such widespread uptake, he says, is quite staggering.
For more information on the Huron Clean Water Project, visit the ABCA website at abca.on.ca or the MVCA website at mvca.on.ca
**To view The Citizen's 2017 Salute to Agriculture, click here**