Level 2 drought declared in Renfrew County 0
SEAN CHASE MNR Pembroke district manager Rick Watchorn (centre) briefs the Renfrew County Agricultural Economic Development Committee on the implications of a Level 2 drought declaration Thursday in Admaston/Bromley Township. Looking on are (left to right) Renfrew County warden Bob Sweet, committee member Ray Pender, county economic development services manager Alastair Baird and county director of property and development Paul Moreau.
ADMASTON/BROMLEY TWP - The Ministry of Natural Resources declared Level 2 drought for Renfrew County Thursday with the agricultural community and some municipalities saying they are already in a crisis due to the lack of rainfall and decreasing water levels.
The Renfrew County Agricultural Economic Development Committee convened a special meeting with the MNR Water Response Team, a group made up of representatives from the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and County municipalities and emergency services.
The declaration was issued ased on data showing significantly lower than historical average rainfall amounts and surface water levels on lakes, rivers and streams. In particular, ministry-regulated gauges on the Petawawa, Bonnechere and Madawaska rivers showed they were at 40 per cent of normal stream flow for this time of year.
Level 2 is declared if one-month precipitation falls to between 60 and 40 per cent of normal or when the three month or 18 month total precipitation is between 60 and 40 per cent of the average level. A Level 2 means that there are minor problems with the supply of water.
"We are below 50 per cent of our average three-month precipitation," said MNR Pembroke district manager Rick Watchorn. "It's significant."
Since a Level 1 drought was initiated a week ago, conditions have not improved despite a break in the recent heat wave. Across the province, 25 conservation authorities have issued Level 2 declarations.
"It's much dryer and we're seeing less water over the course of a week," said. Mr. Watchorn.
Under a Level 2, residents and businesses are voluntarily being asked to cut their water usage by 20 per cent. The Ministry of Environment will also contact all users with Permits To Take Water (PTTW), required by anyone pumping more than 50,000 litres a day. The team will also provide recommendations to officials on priority allocations for water determining how much would need to go towards drinking water, sewage and economic uses. Municipalities may implement or increase restrictions on non-essential water use.
Drought conditions become more pronounced as our demand for water increases, added Mr. Watchorn. Impacts include declines in the water quality, a drop in tourism, and recreation, reduced hydro-electric production, industry shut-downs, the loss of fish and wildlife habitat, and increased costs to agricultural production. The team will assess if the conditions have deteriorated to a point where a Level 3 drought will have to be declared. A Level 3 is issued when stream flows are approximately 30 per cent of their normal summer flow or the watershed's precipitation for one month falls below 40 per cent of average. There would have to be the potential for significant harm to the ecosystem and economic harm to water takers. Under a Level 3, the Province may impose mandatory restrictions on those holding Permits to Take Water. Ontario has never experienced a Level 3 drought.
"Level 3 is when you are out of water and that's when the tough decisions have to be made," explained Mr. Watchorn.
However, some municipal leaders felt the situation has grown beyond a Level 2 drought response. Admaston/Bromley councillor Michael Donohue said various municipalities are the path to declaring a state of emergency noting that conditions don't have to be at Level 3 before there's a significant impact across this county. Others declared that rural townships largely based on the agriculture sector are already in a crisis.
"Some of our farmers are at a Level 3 now and we can't wait," said North Algona/Wilberforce mayor Harold Weckworth. "We need to get them water now."
Admaston/Bromley mayor Raye-Anne Briscoe likened the crisis to the 1998 eastern Ontario Ice Storm noting that it may take declarations of states of emergency to access government assistance for farmers and producers suffering major losses from the drought.
"This is awfully serious," she said. "The individual farmers and their families are on the hook already and they are going to be hurt."
Damage reports for all crops have been rolling in to agriculture associations with many farmers facing total losses because they didn't have the money to purchase crop insurance. According to Bruce Moore, a representative with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, there is no relief for farmers at this time noting they should submit claims to their insurers. However, Brian Hamilton, with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said many farmers are already tapping into their winter feed to keep their stocks of cattle alive noting it may be months before the depth and breadth of this drought is known.
"From an industry point of view, we are in a crisis across North America and agriculture in Renfrew County is just a small part of it," he said.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist