Collingwood council is considering a moratorium on new development in the municipality until a solution is found to increase drinking water capacity.
Council will vote on April 26 on whether to implement an interim control bylaw that would put a stop to all new development that hasn’t already been issued a building permit.
If the bylaw is passed, most renovations of existing residential units could continue, but new developments that haven’t received building permits would be put on hold for an undetermined amount of time.
The move is an attempt to buy some time until the town’s water treatment plant can be expanded, or capacity can be increased through one or more options also being presented to council on April 26.
Collingwood’s public works department has submitted a report for council outlining the capacity issues faced by the town’s water treatment plant.
According to the staff report, if nothing changes, the water treatment plant can produce enough treated, potable water for 1,941 more single-family dwelling units (and that’s with five per cent of the capacity reserved as a safety measure) outside of existing homes and those with building permits. But that capacity is only available during the summer.
The colder temperatures of Collingwood winters have been overtaxing the town’s system. Cold water requires higher doses of chlorine to meet provincial standards for drinking water.
The water treatment plant, located at Sunset Point, was built in 1998. As demands have risen to 80 per cent of the plant’s capacity or higher, the town has worked toward a plan to expand the plant, with construction due to be completed by the end of 2025.
However, staff note Collingwood has experienced fast growth and an increase in development applications, pushing ahead concerns about the ability of the water treatment plant to keep up with demand.
Options for increasing capacity
Staff have compiled a list of ways the town can expand capacity at the water treatment plant, but none can be implemented quickly.
The options include:
- Reduce water supply to Town of New Tecumseth and/or Town of The Blue Mountains
Staff report about 35 per cent of the total capacity of the Collingwood water treatment plant gets sent to The Blue Mountains and New Tecumseth under the terms of existing agreements. That capacity is about 50 per cent in the winter because of the added measures needed to treat cold water.
Council could explore an option to decrease the amount of water the town is sending to those two municipalities.
- Push forward with the expansion and upgrades to the plant.
A request for bids is ready to go, but the expansion costs are supposed to be shared between the Town of Collingwood and New Tecumseth, so the town is waiting for a new water supply agreement with New Tecumseth, with terms for cost sharing, before putting the project to tender. Staff suggest council get legal advice on whether they can proceed before the agreement is in place.
A 2020 environmental assessment estimated the cost of the first phase of two for the water plant expansion will cost about $65 million (in 2020 dollars). This cost would be funded through a water reserve fund, development charges, and contributions from other municipalities (New Tecumseth) based on water agreements.
- Use more chlorine in the winter
By increasing the amount of “chlorine dosing” done in the winter, the amount of water that can be processed at the local plant increases. While the water would still be within provincial standards for safe drinking water, taste and odour complaints would increase.
Staff warn upping the chlorine in the winter is a temporary measure while other more long-term measures can be implemented.
- Add disinfecting infrastructure
This option included four pieces of infrastructure: a new chlorine tank, a heater to warm up water before treating it, temporary filtration units, and adding chlorination to the intake pipe.
The intake pipe chlorinator would add chlorine a little earlier in the process, increasing the amount of time the water is in contact with chlorine. It would be decommissioned when the plant is expanded.
A heater comes with an operational cost of about $1.5 million per year. It would also be unnecessary as soon as the plant is expanded.
Temporary filtration units would be custom-ordered and then decommissioned when the plant is expanded.
A new chlorine tank would add to the amount of water that can be chlorinated at the same time, and would be used when the plant is expanded. It would take 18 months to get it dug and built, and would cost about $4 million, but the money is budgeted as part of the expansion.
- Use planning policy to limit or stop development and reserve existing capacity
This option requires the town to prevent new development and/or only allow development where the current water treatment plant capacity is enough.
According to a news release from the town, if an interim control bylaw (development moratorium) is implemented, the town will immediately start work on a land use planning study with the help of a consultant. The study would explore in more detail what planning policies need to be in place over the long-term to manage the town’s water treatment capacity.
The town and Mayor Brian Saunderson assured residents the drinking water is safe and currently exceeds provincial standards.
“This is a capacity issue,” stated Saunderson in the news release. “The best information suggests that demand will exceed capacity and council must consider how to proactively and responsibly address this issue.”
According to the town’s news release, prior efforts to mitigate demands on the town’s potable water supply, such as lawn watering reduction and rates intended to promote water conservation, have “not had a measurable impact on water supply demands.”
The staff report going to council on April 26 recommends the town get legal advice on what risks there are to moving ahead with a tender process before finishing the New Tecumseth agreement.
Staff also suggest council give the go-ahead to start designing and building a new chlorine tank in the meantime.
Finally, staff would like to start discussions with New Tecumseth and The Blue Mountains to reduce the amount of water sent to the two municipalities until the plant expansion is complete.
There is an opportunity for members of the public to speak to council during the April 26 meeting without prior registration. Those wishing to participate can join the meeting virtually. The instructions to do so are listed on the town website here.