Muskrat Watershed Council petitions Laurentian Valley Township for $2,500 in funding
Ryan Paulsen / Daily Observer Muskrat Watershed Council director of agency liaison Doug Skeggs, left, and director of science and water quality Brian Whitehead, make a presentation to Laurentian Valley council-in-committee to request $2,500 in capacity building and operating funding on Tuesday evening, May 5.
The Township of Laurentian Valley heard a delegation from the Muskrat Watershed Council (MWC) at their council-in-committee meeting on Tuesday, May 5, who gave councillors an update on recent MWC happenings, and to request funding to let them continue in their work to improve the water quality of the area along the Muskrat River, with particular attention to Muskrat Lake.
The problem, as presented by Brian Whitehead, director of science and water quality, and Doug Skeggs, director of agency liaison, is "an excess of nutrients in our lakes, rivers, and streams." This excess of nutrients impacts a multitude of industries and sectors, including public health, fisheries, recreation and tourism, as well as having a direct impact on the quality of life of local residents and the property value (and, by extension, tax revenue) of impacted municipalities. Specifically, among other impacts, the nutrients have led to an increase in both the frequency and severity of blue-green algae blooms, which pose a danger to anyone who swims, fishes or draws drinking water from affected lakes.
The region covered by the Muskrat Watershed can be roughly split into two segments: the Snake River catchment area, which encompasses land in Admaston-Bromley, Whitewater Region, North Algona Wilberforce and Laurentian Valley townships; and the Lower Muskrat River catchment area, encompassing much of Laurentian Valley, but also including portions of the City of Pembroke, North Algona Wilberforce Township; Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards Township, Whitewater Region Township; and the towns of Petawawa and Laurentian Hills.
At this point, the organization is looking for financing to help it complete its set-up costs and to allow it to run through to its goal of attaining status as a charitable organization, which would in turn allow it to apply for various government grants.
"It's basically just keeping the organization running," says Skeggs, explaining that an important part of the work they do does involve having directors attend various conferences and training seminars. Considering the directors are all completely voluntary, he says, it's not entirely fair to expect them to volunteer their time and pay out of pocket to attend these events and functions.
In total, the MWC hopes to raise $15,000 in capacity building and operating funds for 2015, an amount they have split between the five municipalities that will be impacted most by their work. They have requested $5,000 in funding from Whitewater Region and $2,500 from each of Admaston-Bromley, North Algona Wilberforce, Laurentian Valley and the City of Pembroke.
Whitewater Region's contribution is expected to be higher than the others since much of the work of the MWC will have the biggest impact on Muskrat Lake, the beleaguered and troubled lake adjacent to the village of Cobden. However, since so much of the immediate work is being done outside of Laurentian Valley, Reeve Robinson questioned the motivation for making an event request of the other four municipalities.
"Because most of the action is in the Snake River catchment," she asked Whitehead, "and Laurentian Valley is in the Lower Muskrat catchment, I just wonder what the rationale is of asking Laurentian Valley for as much seed money as some of the municipalities that are more directly impacted."
Whitehead's response was forthright.
"There's no real science to it," he said, explaining that being the real effect of improving water quality in the region will be beneficial for everyone in all neighbouring communities, the amount was tallied and then simply split evenly four ways.
To support their request, Skeggs points out that when the MWC received funding last year and used it to monitor and report on local water quality, "that was the most comprehensive report on water quality that has ever been done in Renfrew County, never mind just the Muskrat Watershed."
The problem, says Skeggs, is that once that money dried up, the council was left with just one year of data, while "the science folks who have looked at this have said that you really need three years of data" in order to establish true trends and account for year-to-year discrepancies.
While most of the township's council was generally receptive to the notion of supporting the council, the issue was tabled until the next regular council meeting, scheduled for May 19, when Councillor Jim Sheedy and Mayor Steve Bennett (who were both absent Tuesday evening, along with CAO Dean Sauriol) would be back in attendance.
One concern, raised by Councillor Allan Wren, and echoed by Robinson and others, was the conspicuously open-ended nature of the request for funding.
"I just want to make it clear from our end that this would a one-time thing," Wren said during discussions later on in the agenda of the committee meeting, "and that we're not getting on board with giving them $2,500 each year, with increases every year, and so on. If they need more money, they'll have to come back."
After all councillors agreed that any further funding would require another visit and specific request from council, the matter was set aside until May 19.
For more information about the Muskrat Watershed Council, visit their website here.