Construction contaminates well water in area near Montfort Hospital, residents say

Encroaching construction is threatening to contaminate the well water in a small Ottawa neighbourhood overlooking the Montfort Hospital, according to long-time homeowners.

Elevated E. coli has followed every major construction project near Fairhaven, residents say

Pauline van der Roest stands outside her Fairhaven home where developers began felling trees last week to make way for digging she says could threaten her water supply. (Ben Andrews/CBC Ottawa)

Encroaching construction is threatening to contaminate the well water in a small Ottawa neighbourhood overlooking the Montfort Hospital, according to long-time homeowners.

The homeowners say they have measured drinking water when there is construction nearby and noticed a dangerous spike in E. coli each time.

As part of a development pre-application to the City of Ottawa, DCR Phoenix Homes began levelling trees last week in a small, wooded lot near the intersection of Montreal and Lang's roads in the secluded Fairhaven neighbourhood.

The developer is seeking approval to build two nine-storey apartment buildings and underground parking at the site, but residents say they worry even exploratory drilling could send enough vibrations through the bedrock to break particles loose in the underground aquifer and contaminate their drinking supply.

"You have to constantly struggle with your water […] because you get more and more developments being tolerated and approved by the city. It's stressful and it's devastating," said Pauline van der Roest, a Fairhaven resident for 16 years.

If the developer's proposal is approved, residents say they're worried the required deep drilling and excavation could leave their water undrinkable.

It's a problem homeowners said they've watched emerge over decades of routine testing.

"We seem to be in a kind of Groundhog Day scenario as each development comes up," said Al Crosby, who has lived in Fairhaven since 1978.

Al Crosby says his well water becomes contaminated every time there is construction nearby. (Ben Andrews/CBC Ottawa)

Provincial protections 'not adequate': councillor

DCR Phoenix Homes said the buildings would provide needed housing for people who work at the hospital or elsewhere along Montreal Road.

"It's exactly what the city's official plan is calling for," said Michael Boucher, vice-president of land development with Phoenix.

He said his company is aware of residents' concerns about water contamination and is clearing trees to make room for drill rigs as part of a study required by the City of Ottawa.

"Quite frankly, we're interested in making sure that what we do doesn't have any impacts on the adjoining land," Boucher said.

Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King said although regulation of private wells falls largely under provincial powers, he's working to increase the City of Ottawa's ability to safeguard its water. He pointed to an inquiry on well water he submitted to environment committee and an amendment he introduced to the official plan that tries to balance density targets with water protection.

The 2020 Province of Ontario policy statement recommends protecting all municipal water supplies and designated vulnerable areas. But King said it's clear provincial protections don't go far enough.

"They're not adequate, obviously, for the residents of Fairhaven," he said. "And it's not just concerning the people who are living there, per se, it's also protection of our natural resources. They are next to a quarry. They are on forested land that clearly is an oasis within the urban environment."

Area councillor Rawlson King says provincial protections don't go far enough for residents whose water supply could be in danger. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Contamination fears rooted in Fairhaven's history

A group of National Research Council employees founded Fairhaven in 1948 when they purchased the block of land as an idyllic refuge from a cramped Montreal Road research base after the Second World War. They managed the neighbourhood as a co-operative and designed it to follow the contours of the rocky hillside and preserve many of its existing trees.

The co-op built on limestone bedrock and each of the neighbourhood's 24 homes is on a private well. Crosby estimated it would cost in excess of $1 million per home to connect to city water lines.

Van der Roest said she'd like to see development restricted in the area.

"We thought it was really time to step up," van der Roest said. "This is really getting to a point where it becomes even more unacceptable than it already was."