Rapid growth of Windsor-Essex greenhouses leads to fight over water access

·3 min read

Rapid growth of the greenhouse industry in Kingsville and Leamington has caused the Union Water Supply System to prioritize plans to increase water capacity sooner than expected.

Greenhouses use about half the amount of water supplied by Union Water in Essex County. The rapid development of that agriculture sector in the area means Union Water is working to get a planned five million gallon reservoir project up and running in about two years, rather than the anticipated five years.

It's a race to complete the project sooner because if water supply doesn't increase, the municipalities may have to decide between housing developments or new greenhouses.

"The area is kind of booming and I mean, a lot of people are moving in from other areas, from Toronto, it's a retirement area, there's a lot of housing going up," said Union Water manager Rodney Bouchard.

"So that's that's a positive thing. And that's great. And we want to make sure we can treat enough water to provide that to our municipal partners so they can provide it to the residents as well."

The water system, according to Bouchard, will make some upgrades to its current plant that will add anther one to two million gallons of water per year by 2022.

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

But if it ends up taking five years to get the new reservoir built, the regions might not be able to sustain a growing housing market and thriving greenhouse industry.

"So it could mean not as robust growth for large water users, it could mean a concentration of dedicated connections to commercial to residential growth, which we've seen in each community, " said Kingsville mayor Nelson Santos, who is also the chair of the Union Water System.

But, some members in the town of Essex, which owns six per cent of Union Water, are concerned.

Essex councillor Chris Vander Doelen says the area is only being given about a 10th of the water supply he believes it should be entitled to and that this is insufficient.

"That would allow us to build about 800 homes or less than we've got approved on the books and that would mean we could never accept a new industrial plant or our own greenhouse under construction because we just don't have the capacity," said Vander Doelen, who is also a Union Water board member.

He said that a sharing agreement still needs to be negotiated.

But Santos says Essex only issues about 100 building permits per year so the water supply should be enough.

Manager of Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Joe Sbrocchi said he also believes the capacity will be there when needed and notes that the industry is always working on being more efficient.

"We're fixated as being as efficient as possible at all times," he said. "I think our members ... understand what is needed and seem to be able to get it done and we're surrounded by a community that understands we're an important economic driver."

Union Water said another possibility is to hook up with Windsor's water supply to offset any potential issues.