Scholarship supports research into water management issues

A new scholarship for students in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) aims to address key gaps in knowledge about water management issues. The Tasker Family Award in Water Resources, established by Jeff and Margo Tasker (BA ’91), will grant $1,000 each year to support a Master in Environmental Studies (MES) student conducting research in the area of water resources management.

Left: Jeff Tasker (left), Margo Tasker and Joni Seager, dean of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies

“This award will play a key role in encouraging student research in the broad area of water management,” said FES Dean Joni Seager. “The Faculty of Environmental Studies appreciates and admires not only the Tasker family’s generosity, but their clear commitment to environmental issues.”

In 1998, the Taskers purchased a mill property in the village of Feversham, Ont. With Jeff’s background in physics, he thought it would be interesting to transform the mill into a hydro generator. Yet, while such a transformation is possible, issues arise that reveal a critical lack of knowledge about how private owners can meet the environmental goals set out in public policy.

In part these issues are embedded in the history of Feversham. The land that is now Feversham was originally granted to Edward Horton in 1861. Horton, in turn, used the land to design his own town, a process which included parcelling out the land into lots and developing and operating a mill and dam on the Beaver River. The plan proved very successful, and Feversham became an active community that thrived until the general rural decline of the 1980s.

However, Horton’s historical vision hasn’t translated easily into the contemporary landscape. With the mill and dam come flooding rights – the rights to raise the water level in the dam’s reservoir to a certain point of the land, over an area known as the flooding easement. To avoid contaminating the river, current regulations stipulate that there should be no development within the easement. But in Feversham’s case, lands within the easement could contain septic systems or wells, meaning that, if the easement is flooded, the river might be polluted.

Right: The scenic Eugenia Falls are part of the Beaver River in Feversham, Ont.

The Taskers discovered this issue because through the process of transforming the mill they were determined to bring it up to current environmental standards. “With the mill’s low change of ownership – only five owners in the past 150 years – it really needed to be brought up to code,” said Margo. “And since the Ministry of Natural Resources is encouraging people to generate their own hydro, we wanted to take the view that the laws were enabling – that rather than restricting our actions, they would help us do what they want, which is to create our own sustainable power source.”

But while the laws encourage independent power generation and give the Taskers the right to use the flooding easement, they also grant the lot owners the right to keep their land. And if the Taskers go ahead and assert their flooding rights, they not only risk polluting the river – the act they originally sought to prevent – they can be held responsible for any pollution that occurs.

“The interesting thing is that if the government owned the mill, they would have the right to expropriate the land adjacent to the easement,” said Margo. “But for private owners, there’s no direction on how to deal with these issues. We’ve consulted so many lawyers and surveyors, and none of the professionals have any experience with this. Everyone says that the project a great idea. But, when it comes to implementation, what we keep hearing is: ‘I don’t know how you’d do that.’ There is no precedent to follow.”

In other words, the Taskers’ attempt to set up a sustainable enterprise is breaking new ground. The process keeps frustrating their efforts – yet they themselves are not frustrated. They are continuing with their innovative and ambitious plan to use the mill to launch further sustainable redevelopment in Feversham. Their optimism is also apparent in the establishment of this new FES scholarship.

“As they have demonstrated by establishing the Tasker Family Award in Water Resources, Jeff and Margo are determined people. This investment in the education of today’s students will influence the policy of tomorrow  – how insightful,” said Lisa Gleva, chief development officer for FES.

“We’ve done a lot of learning, and what we have noticed is that there is a real need for knowledge in this area,” Margo said. “Projects like this are desirable from an environmental and political standpoint, but there needs to be better understanding of how they can be put into place by private owners. By establishing this award we hope to encourage and inspire students in the Faculty of Environmental Studies to investigate these kinds of issues.”

This article was submitted to YFile by Arlene Williams, media & communications coordinator, Faculty of Environmental Studies.