Clean Water Act

How it came into being (Walkerton Enquiry)

In May 2000, water contaminated by a virulent strain of E. coli bacteria made its way into the municipal water system of the community of Walkerton. Within days, seven people had died and thousands of others had become ill from drinking the contaminated water.

As a result of the events in Walkerton, the provincial government convened an inquiry, which was led by Justice Dennis O’Connor of the Supreme Court of Ontario. In 2002, Justice O’Connor released two report findings and recommendations to ensure safe water supply systems in Ontario . Part 1 described the events that took place in Walkerton and the series of human and system failures that led to the water being contaminated. Part 2 of the report focused on the public policy development for the protection of Ontario ‘s drinking supply. A total of 121 recommendations were made with 22 of those related to source water protection.

Justice O’Connor recommended that drinking water is best protected by taking an approach that uses multiple barriers to prevent contamination from affecting our drinking water, called the ‘multi-barrier approach.’ Actions to prevent contamination include water treatment and distribution systems, water testing, and training of water managers.

Why it is important

The Clean Water Act has been passed by the Ontario legislature to assist communities with protecting their municipal drinking water supplies at the source. Through source protection planning, communities will identify potential risks to local water quality and water supply, and will create a plan to reduce or eliminate these risks. The task of developing a plan will involve watershed residents working with municipalities, conservation authorities, property owners, farmers, industry, health officials, community groups, and others.

Who has what roles and responsibilities under the CWA, (including MOE, MNR, CAs, Municipalities) ?

Source Protection Authority

Generally, the source protection authority will follow the same structure as the current conservation authority boards, which are made up of members appointed by municipal councils. The geographic area of each authority will cover the watershed. There are 11 source protection regions and 8 stand-alone source protection areas” . In the case of Source Protection Regions, one source protection authority will be the lead and co-ordinate the efforts of the authorities across each region. This lead authority will establish the source protection committee for the region, and provide support to the committee during the development of the terms of reference, assessment report and the source protection plan.

Source Protection Committee

Source protection committees will prepare the terms of reference, the assessment report and the source protection plan. There will be strong municipal representation on the committee which will also include conservation authorities, farmers, small business and a range of other stakeholders within the watershed. Through the source protection committee, municipalities will work to identify, assess and address risks to drinking water within their municipal wellhead and intake protection areas. Stakeholders such as local property owners could also participate through working groups, supporting and consulting on the work of the source protection committee.


Municipalities will have a strong role in developing and implementing source protection plans in all areas under municipal jurisdiction. Municipalities are already responsible for the delivery of municipal drinking water and land use planning and the proposed source protection process will build on this work.

Municipalities will develop and implement policies to reduce risks posed by activities located in areas under their jurisdiction. This could include requiring individual property owners to take action on significant drinking water threats located within their wellhead and intake protection areas.

Conservation Authorities

Conservation authorities, with their watershed-based perspective, will help source protection committees develop source protection plans by gathering and sharing information, facilitating cooperation and coordination among communities and stakeholders, and providing technical support and advice to the source protection committees.

Property owners, industry, businesses, farmers, community groups and the public

It is important that people become involved in local source protection planning and help to find practical, workable solutions. Engaging the local community in source protection planning will build partnerships to protect common interests. Anyone engaged in an activity that poses a threat or may be affected by the source protection plan will be encouraged to become involved early on, and could be involved through representation on the source protection committees or working groups.

Broader public consultation across the watershed at three key stages – during the preparation of the terms of reference, the assessment report and the source protection plan – will provide an opportunity for everyone to provide their input.