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History of Source Water Protection

In May 2000, heavy rainfall caused deadly bacteria known as E. coli to wash into a well serving the municipal water system of the Town of Walkerton, Ontario. A series of human and mechanical failures ...

As a result of the tragedy, a public inquiry to address the events that caused the contamination was led by Justice O’Connor of the Supreme Court of Ontario. The Walkerton Commission of Inquiry resulted in a two-part report that consisted of more than 120 recommendations for the protection of the province’s drinking water.

The recommendations concluded that a multi-barrier approach was the best way to maintain a safe water supply and keep contaminants from reaching the public. Justice O’Connor identified that no single barrier was sufficient to guarantee safe drinking water, but a multi- barrier approach that allows the barriers to work together could provide an overall safer drinking water supply.

Justice O’Conner identified five parts to the multi-barrier system:  

  1. Source Water Protection
  2. Adequate treatment
  3. Secure Distribution Systems
  4. Proper Monitoring and Testing
  5. Strategic Response to Adverse Conditions

With the exception of source water protection, the last four barriers address “end of pipe” water treatment practices, meaning they protect water after it has already entered the water treatment system. Source Water Protection focuses on the protection of water before it enters the drinking water treatment system.

The government of Ontario addressed the last four barriers by passing the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act.

 The first barrier –source water protection- required a very different approach.  

To address source water protection Justice O’Connor recommended that plans to protect drinking water sources be developed for every watershed in Ontario by those most directly affected, including local groups, communities, and municipalities.  To address these recommendations the provincial government passed legislation called the Clean Water Act in 2006.                              

Walter the Water Drop says,

The Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act (the Act) calls for the protection of drinking water at the source, as part of an overall commitment to safeguard human health and the environment.

Under the Act, communities are required to develop and implement source protection plans to protect both the quality and quantity of their municipal drinking water sources. The legislation lays out a basic framework for communities to follow when developing and implementing a source protection plan and program. 

The Clean Water Act:

  • Requires communities to investigate existing and potential threats to their water, and set out  the actions necessary to reduce or eliminate these threats
  • Requires public participation and input on the development of a  local source protection plan
  • Empowers and encourages the community to take action to prevent threats to drinking water.
  • Requires that all plans and actions undertaken to protect drinking water sources are based on sound science. Research is undertaken to understand where drinking water supplies are most sensitive to contamination and overuse, and the types of activities that pose threats to drinking water systems. This research forms the scientific foundation of the source protection program.                                                                                                         

CTC Source Protection Region

The Clean Water Act and its associated regulations established new areas called Source Protection Regions for the administration of source water protection initiatives.  A Source Protection Region generally consists of multiple watersheds which are grouped together for the purposes of source protection implementation. Justice O’Connor recommended this watershed-based approach to protect drinking water during the Walkerton Inquiry. 

Each region has its own Source Protection Committee that is responsible for undertaking a scientific assessment of municipal drinking water systems to identify:

  • areas where water sources are most vulnerable to contamination and depletion and
  • the types of  threats  present around municipal water supplies

The Source Protection Committee also develops the Source Protection Plan that outlines the strategy on how these drinking water threats will be addressed in order protect municipal drinking water supplies.

The Town of Orangeville is located within the Credit Valley-Toronto and Region-Central Lake Ontario (CTC) Source Protection Region. As a result, significant drinking water threat activities in the Town of Orangeville are subject to policies in the CTC Source Protection Plan  (find the Plan here: http://www.ctcswp.ca/

The CTC Source Protection Region spans more the 10,000 square kilometres and is comprised of 25 municipalities -- Orangeville being one of them. This is an essential part of Ontario as it is the most densely populated region in Canada and supports a variety of often conflicting water needs including   drinking water supply, recreation, agriculture, commercial and industrial uses, as well as ecosystem needs.  

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Visit the CTC Source Protection Region website: www.ctcswp.ca