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Source water protection plans could become big project in Ontario

A coalition of citizen and environmental groups is endorsing the proposed Clean Water Act in Ontario -- albeit with...


A coalition of citizen and environmental groups is endorsing the proposed Clean Water Act in Ontario — albeit with a wish list of how the act could be made even stronger.
The Clean Water Act is intended to provide a framework for protecting source water in Ontario and was introduced in December 2005. It was formulated following the recommendations of Justice Dennis O’Connor who was in charge of the Inquiry into the Walkerton drinking water tragedy.
The proposed Bill 43 passed its second reading in May, and government standing committee hearings were held in late August in communities across the province to allow the public to comment on the proposed law.
The proposed legislation would establish source protection areas based on watershed boundaries. Most of the existing conservation authority boundaries — there are currently 36 conservation authorities across Ontario — would be retained or expanded. In parts of the province where there are no source protection area, such as in many parts of Northern Ontario and central Ontario, the Minister of the Environment may set up new source protection areas and designate a particular municipality, or other body to assume the responsibilities of a source protection authority. Municipalities outside a source protection area can enter into an agreement with the Minister of the Environment to develop a focused source protection plan.
The legislation recommends the appointment of Source Protection Committees to oversee the source protection planning for each area. The committees would be comprised of up to 16 members, of which one-third might be municipal representatives, and others would be from First Nations, agriculture, industry, public health bodies and non-governmental organizations, as well as representatives of the general public.
The source protection committees would have to complete an assessment report and protection plan for their particular area. The Ministry of the Environment would provide guidance on the types of studies and information that they would need, but it would include a requirement for detailed scientific and technical work, including assessments of protection zones for wellheads and surface water intake areas.
Among the questions that the public is being asked to comment on regarding the proposed regulations is one that could have a great impact on consulting engineering firms. The December 2005 Notice of the Proposal for Regulation asks: “How should the province ensure that individuals or groups that are required by the terms of reference to undertake planning activities in relation to the preparation of the assessment report and source protection plan (e.g. characterizing watersheds, producing water budgets) are appropriately qualified? For example, should the government require a particular level of education, professional designation or level of expertise/experience?”
The 16 citizens and environmental groups who released a joint statement at the start of public hearings this August voiced optimism and support: “This Act makes drinking water source protection a top priority in local and regional planning decisions,” said Jessica Ginsburg of the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “Its innate flexibility will allow communities to identify their true priorities and design solutions which are workable and effective.”
At the same time, however, the groups are pressing to have the Clean Water Act made even stronger. Their list of recommendations includes:
h The adoption of the precautionary principle.
h Meaningful involvement of Firs Nations, Metis and Inuit people.
h Equal source water protection for central and northern Ontario and for private water systems
h Strong commitments to Great Lakes protections and integration with Great Lakes agreements.