Source: Conservation Ontario
Water is critical to all aspects of our lives and it is important that we ensure there is a safe and reliable source of water for all our uses – now and in the future.
Our drinking water comes from lakes, rivers, streams or underground sources (aquifers) located across the province. All of these sources of water are linked in a watershed through the water cycle. Drinking water sources can be easily contaminated and have a limited tolerance for stress. Long terms problems can develop that are costly or even impossible to correct.
In order to make sure we have enough clean water for drinking and other uses, we need to protect sources by managing the influences on them. The best way to protect sources of water is on a watershed basis because water flows across traditional boundaries such as towns and cities.
Drinking water is best protected by taking an approach that uses multiple barriers to prevent contamination from affecting our drinking water. Known as the ‘multibarrier approach’, it includes taking actions to prevent contamination of sources of our water, using adequate water treatment and distribution systems, water testing and training of water managers.
In his Walkerton Inquiry, Justice O’Connor called for a multiple-barrier water management approach to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again. He concluded that source protection is one of the most effective and efficient means of protecting the safety of Ontario’s drinking water. He also made 22 recommendations related to source water protection planning, including the need to develop legislation that would require source protection plans to be developed adn implemented locally for every watershed in Ontario.
Clean Water Act
The Clean Water Act is part of the Ontario government’s commitment to implement all of the recommendations of the Walkerton Inquiry. The legislation directly addresses 12 and supports the implementation of 22 recommendations of the Walkerton Inquiry on protecting drinking water at its source.
For the first time, communities will be required to create and carry out a plan to protect the sources of their municipal drinking water supplies. The Clean Water Act will:
- Require local communities to look at the existing and potential threats to their water and set out and implement the actions necessary to reduce or eliminate significant threats.
- Empower communities to take action to prevent threats from becoming significant.
- Require public participation on every local source protection plan. This means everyone in the community gets a chance to contribute to the planning process.
- Require that all plans and actions are based on sound science.
This legislation is designed to promote voluntary initiatives but does require mandatory action where needed. The legislation sets out a basic framework for communities to follow in developing an approach to protecting their municipal water supplies that works for them:
- Identify and assess risks to the quality and quantity of municipal drinking water sources and decide which risks are significant and need immediate action, which need monitoring to ensure they do not become significant, or which pose a low or negligible risk.
- Develop a source protection plan that sets out how the risks will be addressed. Broad consultation will involve municipalities, conservation authorities, property owners, farmers, industry, businesses, community groups, public health officials, First Nations and the public in coming up with workable, effective solutions.
- Carry out the plan through existing land use planning and regulatory requirements or approvals, or voluntary initiatives. Activities that pose a significant risk to drinking water sources may be prohibited or may require a site specific risk management plan. This plan will set out the measures that a property owner will take to ensure the activity is no longer a threat.
- Stay vigilant through ongoing monitoring and reporting to measure the effectiveness of the actions taken to protect drinking water sources and ensure they are protected in the future.
Northern municipalities will protect their drinking water supplies through a locally-driven, scoped planning process that focuses on specific drinking water threats in specific areas.
Source Water Protection in Muskoka
The majority of Muskoka is located within the Muskoka River Watershed and source protection planning for this area is governed by The District Municipality of Muskoka in the absence of a Conservation Authority.
The eastern and southern areas of Muskoka fall within the Black and Severn River Watersheds and are therefore part of the South Georgian Bay Lake Simcoe Source Protection Region.