Sutton plans to freeze construction to protect water supply

By Ruby Irene Pratka – Local Journalism Initiative

The Town of Sutton intends to declare a moratorium on all construction in the Montagne sector of the city until further notice, pending authorization by the MRC, to relieve pressure on the area’s water supply.

Mayor Robert Benoit made the announcement on April 6 after unveiling a report, commissioned earlier this year by the town and prepared by the engineering firm Tetra Tech. The report found that the cold-water production capacity of the filtration station that supplies the Montagne sector was “insufficient,” and “overall water availability [in the sector] is insufficient in summer.”

The climate crisis and the growing demand for residential construction are putting pressure on the existing water supply, city officials say. “With decreases in water flow during low water periods, repeated episodes of drought and an increase in the number of full-time residents, the current network is struggling to meet demand and is limiting…development,” Isabelle Capmas, communications director for the Town of Sutton, explained in a statement. Benoit noted in an interview that the surface streams feeding the sector’s reservoirs “were almost dry over the last two summers.”

Benoit explained that water was stored in the reservoirs during the spring melt-off season and treated before flowing into the kitchens and washrooms of the sector’s 3,500 residents. “We have enough water to respond to current demand, but at certain times of year, we have a [temporary] deficit, and we have to cut off or reduce the water supply,” he said. “We’re currently in a state of fragile equilibrium, and we don’t have enough water to respond to new demand.”

He added that drawing water from the water table in the Village sector had been considered as a possible solution, but that analyses carried out by the town at the beginning of the year showed that that was not sustainable.

Benoit, who led an environmental activist group before entering electoral politics, said the moratorium was a conscious political, economic and environmental choice. “We prefer developing affordable housing in the Village sector rather than [encouraging the construction of] weekend residences in the Montagne sector,” he said. According to Benoit, the moratorium would remain in place until accessible, affordable solutions were found for the water problem. In the adjacent sector, construction permits for single-family homes will be issued on a case-by-case basis to reduce pressure on the water table.

Benoit also announced the town’s intention to carry out two hydrogeological studies over the next year, one to confirm the capacity of the groundwater of the Academy well which serves the Village sector and another in the Montagne sector to “determine suitable locations for exploratory drilling,” and to inventory and reinforce existing water-saving measures. A consultative committee on environmental issues will be set up to recommend additional solutions, which may include raising water rates, placing restrictions on water usage and raising awareness of water conservation among children and teens in school. “We’re heading toward a water shortage, not just in Sutton but on a provincewide scale, and there is no one magic solution,” he said. “People thought there would always be enough water, but more and more municipalities are having water supply issues. We’re just the first to experience this situation.”

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