Extend source water protection coverage to non-municipal drinking water systems: environmental group

Ontario currently protects only municipal water drinking sources

Extend source water protection coverage to non-municipal drinking water systems: environmental group

The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) has commented on a recently released guidance containing best practices for protecting drinking water sources across Ontario.

On Feb. 10, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks released new guidance entitled “Best Practices for Source Water Protection.” This document aims to provide landowners who are neither covered by provincially approved source protection plans nor regulated by the Clean Water Act (CWA) with tips and information needed to protect their water sources and drinking water systems from contamination. It also sought input from the public to know their thoughts on the new guidance.

CELA noted in its written submission that approximately 18 percent of Ontario’s population does not have appropriate drinking water protections. The current regime under the CWA “continues to be largely, if not exclusively, focused on protecting sources of municipal drinking water.”

Thus, CELA claimed that while the new guidance provides a helpful compilation of general information on how to protect drinking water sources, its mere publication is an “unacceptable substitute” for effective protection of non-municipal sources of drinking water under the CWA.

“Without complimentary funding to support technical assessments or implement any on-the-ground measures to ensure protection of source water for non-municipal systems, the new guidance does very little to provide meaningful protection of human health and the environment,” CELA said.

CELA says, for years, it has been calling on the environment ministry to extend source water protection coverage under the CWA to non-municipal drinking water systems that serve some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in the province. The organization applied for a review of the CWA and Ontario Regulation 287/07 under the Environmental Bill of Rights to remedy the “alarming and continuing omission.”

“If the provincial government wants to ensure and enhance drinking water safety for all residents of Ontario, [we] continue to recommend that the CWA coverage be expanded to non-municipal systems,” CELA said.

Moreover, CELA listed down certain facilities that should be prioritized and included in source water protection planning if they do not receive water from a municipal drinking water system. These include:

  • children and youth care facilities
  • children’s camps
  • community centres
  • health care facilities, including retirement homes and long-term care centres
  • public and private schools
  • social care facilities
  • facilities serving food or providing overnight accommodation, such as restaurants, hotels, motels, trailer parks, campgrounds, and marinas

CELA also recommended that appropriate reforms to the CWA be developed and meaningfully consulted with Indigenous communities to better accommodate or assist source protection planning for drinking water systems serving these communities.

“In our view, this step is clearly necessary in light of the numerous long-term ‘boil water’ advisories, ‘do not consume’ warnings, and other serious water-related problems that continue to plague many Indigenous communities in Ontario,” CELA said.

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