Ensuring safe drinking water is important to the health and well-being of our communities. We all need and deserve safe drinking water and, in this regard, it is in everyone's interest to ensure that our drinking water is safe and secure. But what is the best way to keep our water safe now and in the future?
Our drinking water comes from surface water sources such as lakes, rivers, and streams, but it may also come from underground sources such as groundwater aquifers. Unfortunately, these sources of water are susceptible to contamination or overuse. Source Water Protection (SWP) is simply protecting these surface water and groundwater sources from such unwanted impacts.
SWP is the first barrier of a multi-barrier approach to ensuring safe drinking water that includes:
This multi-barrier approach was recommended in the O'Connor report, which followed from the Public Inquiry into the Walkerton tragedy. SWP is considered a key component of this approach, since the protection and enhancement of natural systems is considered one of the most effective ways of ensuring the safety of Ontario's drinking water. Also conventional water treatment methods cannot cost effectively remove many hazardous chemicals, if they are present in the source water.
The Source Protection Planning Process and Where We are Today
The Clean Water Act (CWA) sets out a four stage process for Source Water Protection (also known as simply Source Protection). Ratified by the Ontario Government in 2006, the CWA was fashioned to ensure safe drinking water for Ontario residents from ‘source to tap’. The four stage process is outlined below and consists of:
- Stage One – initial start-up phase
- Stage Two – Preparation of the Assessment Report
- Stage Three – Preparation of the Source Protection Plan
- Stage Four – Implementation of the Source Protection Plan
Stage one was the initial phase of the process and involved establishing Source Protection Areas, Source Protection Authorities (SPAs), and local source protection committees throughout the province. Technical studies were also begun at this time. In Niagara, the Source Protection Area covers the same area as that of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), and the Niagara Peninsula Source Protection Authority is considered the same as the NPCA. The source protection area and source protection authority are described in more detail below.
The Source Protection program is led locally by a source protection committee made up of various stakeholders and is administered locally in our case by the Niagara Peninsula Source Protection Authority.
Niagara Peninsula Source Protection Area (NPSPA)
Under the CWA, the area of jurisdiction for each Conservation Authority (CA) is generally designated the drinking water Source Protection Area and the CA acts as the drinking water Source Protection Authority. In Niagara the NPCA acts as a stand alone source protection authority for the Niagara Peninsula Source Protection Area (NPSPA). In other places the province has combined two or more Source Protection Areas to form Source Protection Regions. An example is the Hamilton and Halton Conservation Authorities, which form the Hamilton-Halton Source Protection Region. Under the Act, the 36 CAs in Ontario have been grouped into 19 Source Protection Areas and Regions. In total, there are 11 Source Protection Regions of 2 or more CAs and 8 stand-alone Source Protection Areas. Source Protection Regions have one lead CA that established the Source Protection Committee (SPC), and now provides support to the committee throughout the entire process.
Niagara Peninsula Source Protection Committee (SPC)
Stage One of the Source Protection Planning Process also involves selecting a Source Protection Committee (SPC) for each Source Protection Area and Region. The SPC is responsible for the key documents produced throughout the source protection planning process beginning with the Terms of Reference (TOR), followed by the Assessment Report and finally the Source Protection Plan (SPP). Formed in 2007, the Niagara Peninsula SPC is a multi-stakeholder group with nine members plus a Chair appointed by the province. It has three members representing the municipalities, three members from the general public, and one member each from agriculture, industry, and business. The ultimate goal of the SPC is to develop the Source Protection Plan, which applies various strategies for safeguarding the watershed’s drinking water sources.
Click here for more information on the Niagara Peninsula SPC
Terms of Reference (TOR)
The first major task for the SPC was to prepare a TOR which describes the tasks to be completed, including parties responsible for conducting the work, and estimates for time and budgets. The Terms of Reference involved a significant public consultation process and was approved by the MOE in the spring of 2009.
Click here for more information on the development of the TOR
Assessment Report (AR)
Stage Two of the Source Protection Planning process involves the preparation of the Assessment Report (AR). The AR looks at the watershed in its entirety and seeks to understand surface and ground water characteristics and which vulnerable areas need protection. AR content is based on three main documents;
- Clean Water Act, 2006 (CWA),
- Ontario Regulation 287/07 (General Regulation), and the
- Technical Rules: AR Clean Water Act (November 16, 2009).
The primary goal of the AR is to provide the necessary information to develop the source protection plan and make local policy decisions for the management and protection of our drinking water sources. Several technical studies have been completed by the NPCA and Regional Municipality of Niagara for the source protection program. The AR includes the results of these studies. The main study areas were:
- Watershed Characterization Report
- Water Budget and Water Quantity Stress Assessment
- Groundwater Vulnerability
- Surface Water Vulnerability
- Threats Inventory and Issues Evaluation
The development of the AR included public commenting periods where the public, municipalities and other key stakeholders could review the report and provide their comments. The AR was initially submitted to Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) in July 2010 and an amended AR was submitted in May 2011. The Assessment Report was approved by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) in July 2011.
Click here to view the Assessment Report (AR)
Source Protection Plan (SPP)
Stage Three of the Source Protection Planning process is the development of the Source Protection Plan (SPP) following approval of the AR by the MOE. The SPP builds on information from the Assessment Report, setting out policies and risk management strategies to address any significant threats to the municipal drinking water supply.
The following tools have been utilized in the source protection plan policies:
- Utilizing the province’s Planning Act to address significant threats to drinking water supplies through changes to a municipality’s Official Plan.
- Utilizing a number of provincially Prescribed Instruments, such as the MOE’s Certificate of Approval process (now known as the environmental compliance approvals), to address significant threats to drinking water supplies.
- Utilizing Part IV of the Clean Water Act, if required, which would include regulation of activities that are, or would be, significant threats through a Risk Management Plan.
- Utilizing Part IV of the Clean Water Act, if required, which would include prohibition of activities that are, or would be, significant threats to drinking water supplies particularly when other alternatives are not viable. Generally prohibition would only be used to address future threats.
- Utilizing other policy tools such as Education and Outreach measures to promote awareness of measures that residents and property owners can take to protect drinking water sources.
- Utilizing other tools such as specified action policies that required the implementing body to undertake a particular action or task.
Click here to view the Source Protection Plan (SPP)
Stage Four is the final stage of the Source Protection Planning process and involves implementing the policies in the Source Protection Plan to address significant drinking water threats. A number of municipalities as well as provincial ministries and other agencies are identified as bodies responsible for implementing Source Protection Plan policies in Niagara. For instance, the municipalities of Thorold, Port Colborne, Niagara Falls and Niagara Region will each be required to make changes to their Official Plans and municipal by-laws to adhere to the policies in the Source Protection Plan. Most policies should be implemented within three years once the Source Protection Plan is approved by the province and takes effect.