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Ground water in ontario

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Ground water in ontario

As nations around the globe enter the 21st century, one of the most pressing concerns facing each is the notion of sustainable development. Sustainable development, simply put, refers to maintaining a rate of industrialization which minimizes the destruction of the environment. And while issues such as the price and accessibility of crude oil dominate trade talks and newspaper headlines, there is an ever-more important concern emerging: access to water.

Despite its relatively small population size (approximately 30 million), Canada is one of the largest consumers of water on a per capita basis. Only the United States exceeds Canada's rate of consumption. In his article, Water from the Ground, Peter Gorrie writes that Canada uses "an estimated 1.5 billion cubic meters of [water] each year", (Gorrie 71). And while Canadians are for the most part are unaware of how much water they consume, they are even less aware of its presence around them. For water is an immense natural resource that rests not only around Canadians, but beneath their feet as well.

In no region is this more pervasive than in the province of Ontario. Ontarians walk above groundwater supplies everyday, without the slightest notion of the extent to which they rely on this over-used and exploited natural resource. Canada as a whole "has far more water underground than on the surface - perhaps 65 times more than in surface lakes and streams",(Gorrie 70-71), and the same holds true for Ontario. Outside of the major urban centres which rely predominantly on surface sources for their water, most of Ontario relies on groundwater supplies. Although these groundwater supplies are abundant, not all are usable. In some cases the water has been polluted - as is the case in Elmira - and in others it is simply unpalatable because of high sulfur and other mineral contents. But because of the amount of groundwater which is actually used throughout Ontario, it is quite shocking that a majority of people are unaware of the inherent danger to Ontario's groundwater supply.

"Out of sight and mind"(Gorrie 69) is an all too common phrase used by geographers to describe the lack of concern over groundwater. Ontario is slowly polluting its groundwater, and making it the resting place for many toxic chemicals. Groundwater moves the fastest through coarse sands or gravels, but it moves at a snail's pace through clays that are found in most of Southern Ontario. Some of these pollutants take hundreds of years to work there way out of the water table, and there are no clean-up solutions worth using.

Pollution to groundwater comes in many different forms. Large companies are accused of being the primary polluters, but others who are also responsible include dry cleaners, farmers, residential septic tanks, mine tailing run-off, garbage dumps, and leaky fuel storage facilities. Gorrie points out one of the central problems in reducing groundwater pollution: "Canada has some of the world's leading experts on groundwater, but we have some of the weakest, laziest legislation covering it"(Gorrie 73). In order to gain a greater understanding of the threats to groundwater supplies, it is imperative to look at the causes of pollution and their consequences to the general public.

In 1989 the effects of groundwater pollution were felt in the small southwestern Ontario town of Elmira. Elmira fell victim to tainted groundwater at the hands of Uniroyal Chemical Ltd. The chemical N-nitroso dimethylamine had leaked from the plant into the water supply, requiring the town to drink bottled water for months. Eventually a pipeline was laid from nearby Waterloo to provide fresh clean water to the town. As well as the effects on the town's people, a local firm had to recall 100, 000 cans of apple juice which had been made with the tainted water. This is just one of a number of companies which have been responsible for contaminating drinking water.

The problem of contaminating groundwater supplies is not just localized to Ontario. Ontario may have higher instances of contamination than other parts of Canada, but that can be directly contributed to the population density. "Canada's record for groundwater protection is one of the worst in the industrialized world west"(Gorrie 72). This is a fact that should be disturbing to most in the country and inside the province of Ontario. Canadians as a general rule pride themselves on environmental concern, yet fall short of other heavier populated countries with episodes such as Uniroyal. Perhaps it is because Ontario has such a large supply of fresh water that it has become acceptable in the public, and politicians eye to let companies destroy it.

Another of the large offenders is the mining industry. During the process of mining, large piles of crushed rock (mine tailings) are left behind after the valuable minerals have been removed. These mine tailings pose a major threat to groundwater supplies, because of the iron sulphide they contain. This iron sulphide, when mixed with "water and bacteria converts to sulphuric acid. The acid then dissolves lead, mercury and other toxic or radioactive metals out of the tailings and these can seep down to groundwater", (Gorrie 76). These tailings are not a concern when mines are in operation, because the water must be collected and contaminates separated. When mines are closed however, there is no legislation covering who is responsible for these tailings. This example illustrates yet another way by which big companies have polluted groundwater, and poor government control has allowed them to get away virtually unpunished.

As was mentioned previously, large companies are not the sole contributors to groundwater pollution. Small companies and individuals are equally to blame. For instance, the chemical "perchloroethylene is among the most common ground water contaminants in the world", (Gorrie 74). Perchloroethylene is the main chemical used in the dry-cleaning process, and has effectively altered the way of life for people in Manotick, Ontario for years. ...

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