The History of Source Water Protection  

In May 2000, heavy rainfall caused deadly bacteria known as E. coli to enter a groundwater well serving the municipal water system of the Town of Walkerton, Ontario. A series of human and mechanical failures allowed the bacteria to enter the water distribution system for consumption, which resulted in the deaths of seven people and caused over 2,300 people to fall ill.

A public inquiry was led by Justice Dennis O’Connor of the Supreme Court of Ontario to address the events that resulted in the contamination and tragic human consequences in Walkerton. The Walkerton Commission of Inquiry resulted in a two-part report that consisted of more than 120 recommendations for the protection of Ontario’s drinking water.

Justice O’Connor determined that no single barrier was sufficient to guarantee safe drinking water, but a multi- barrier approach that allows individual 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
Multi-barrier approach

The last four barriers in the multi-barrier approach focus on water treatment, distribution, monitoring and response practices, meaning they protect water after it has already entered the water treatment and distribution system. The Government of Ontario addressed these barriers by passing the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, the Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act, 2002 (repealed in 2012) and the Water Opportunities Act, 2010.

Source Water Protection is the first barrier in the multi-barrier approach and focuses on the protection of water before it enters the drinking water system.  This requires a very different approach to drinking water management when compared to previous legislation in Ontario.  Justice O’Connor recommended that plans to protect drinking water sources be developed for every watershed, and that these plans be developed by those most directly affected, including local business groups, members of the public, and municipalities.  To address these recommendations, the Government of Ontario passed legislation called the Clean Water Act in 2006.

The Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act, 2006 (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, source protection committees are required to develop and implement source protection plans to protect both the quality and quantity of their municipal drinking water sources. The legislation outlines a basic framework for the committees to follow when developing and implementing a source protection plan and program: 

  • Investigate existing and potential threats to the drinking water supplies, and set out the actions necessary to reduce or eliminate these threats.
  • Obtain input from the public.
  • Take action to prevent threats to drinking water.
  • Base all plans and actions undertaken to protect drinking water sources on sound science. Research must be 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.

Ontario Regulation 287/07, made under the Act, identifies the 21 prescribed drinking water threat activities to be addressed through source protection planning activities.  The prescribed drinking water threat activities include:

  • Waste disposal sites
  • Sewage systems
  • Agricultural source material (ASM)
  • Non-agricultural source material (NASM)
  • Commercial fertilizers
  • Pesticides
  • Road salt
  • Fuel
  • Dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs)
  • Organic solvents
  • Water taken and not returned to the same source
  • Reduction of aquifer recharge
  • Land for livestock grazing or pasturing, outdoor confinement area or farm-animal yard

CTC Source Protection Region

The Clean Water Act, 2006 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 that are grouped together for implementation purposes.

Each Source Protection 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 and the types of drinking water threats present. The Source Protection Committee also develops the Source Protection Plan that outlines the strategy to address drinking water threats so that municipal drinking water supplies are protected.

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 the most densely populated region in Canada and supports a variety of often conflicting water needs, including drinking water supply, recreation, agriculture, commercial, industrial, as well as ecosystem needs.  

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