Source Water Protection

April 20, 2022 – FOCA’s Terry Rees was featured on the panel of speakers talking about “Protecting our Source Water” in the Blue Economy Webinar Series presented by the Canadian Water Summit and Water Canada. Watch the 1-hour recording here.

April 18, 2022 – FOCA responds to Ontario’s Best Practices for Source Water Protection

April 14, 2022 – CELA (the Canadian Environmental Law Associations) reponds to Ontario’s Best Practices for Source Water Protection

February 2022 – the Province of Ontario has released Best Practices for source water protection.

icon: magnifying glassWhat FOCA sees: FOCA and others have been calling for improvements to the protection of water to fulfill the recommendations from the Walkerton Commission, to protect the drinking water of ALL Ontarians. Most waterfront landowners in Ontario are NOT included in a Source Water Protection Area and therefore don’t benefit from the existing policies and programs that keep drinking water safe.

While the Province’s new guide is a useful compilation of information about water and what individuals can do to protect it, FOCA feels that such a voluntary approach – without technical resources, implementation or enforcement provisions – is not an acceptable substitute for clear, effective and enforceable rules to safeguard drinking water sources that serve non-municipal drinking water systems (particularly those serving vulnerable persons, kids, seniors, etc.).

FOCA has encouraged everyone to review the Best Practices guidelines (link is above), to provide input to the Province by April 18, 2022, and to make the information available to your respective community members. We all have a role to play in protecting our drinking water!


November 2021 – Closing the gaps. What needs to happen to protect everyone’s drinking water in Ontario? (Water Canada magazine, featuring FOCA)

related: Water Canada Magazine online version (January 2022)

September 29, 2020 – Is Ontario’s Clean Water Act Responsive to Contemporary Water Source Protection Challenges? (The simple answer is: NO!) (Water Canada)

May 2020 – Walkerton’s Drinking Water Protection Legacy (CELA)

May 2020 – See this Ontario Municipal Water Association (OMWA) retrospective video on the Walkerton tragedy, the crisis response, capacity building, restoring trust and credibility, new challenges, and continuous improvement that have been the hallmarks of source water protection in Ontario since the tragedy.

Quotable: “The 2020 Walkerton Report should not be viewed as something cast in stone; it was surely the best effort that everybody involved in the inquiry could come up with at the time. Since 2002 there is new research, new threats, new technology. The Report should be something on which to continue building, so we never let our guard down, maintain vigilance, and avoid complacency. That is the message from the Walkerton Inquiry.” The Honourable Dennis O’Connor O.C., OOnt, Q.C.

January 2020 – Ontario’s Clean Water Act does not currently require mandatory protection of groundwater used by well clusters in hamlets, villages and towns, nor does it consider rural lakes, even though such sources may supply drinking water for hundreds or even thousands of residents. A recent Application for Review was submitted through the Environmental Bill of Rights by Canadian Environmental Law.  Read more: https://cela.ca/water-wells-remain-at-risk/

May 22, 2018 – The Walkerton Tragedy: Lessons Learned and Unfinished Business (Canadian Environmental Law Association)

What FOCA sees:

FOCA has been working on what has been called “source water protection” since FOCA was founded in the 1960’s. FOCA pursues this goal by advocating for strong policies to protect our valuable water sources, and by encouraging the stewardship of Ontario’s waters by every individual.

FOCA’s Executive Director, Terry Rees, has been intimately involved with water initiatives for over 20 years, including the development and implementation of the Ontario Clean Water Act, 2006. In his 2001 presentation to Justice Dennis O’Connor, Terry is quoted, “The future safety of drinking water in the Province is inextricably tied to the care that we take in managing the integrity of these sources.” Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner also emphasized at the time the need for source protection: “The true protection for all our drinking water … lies upstream of the treatment plant.” (quotes courtesy of Walkerton Inquiry Part 2, Final Report)

It is then very much of interest to FOCA that Ontario’s Auditor General (AG) included a chapter on Source Water Protection in her 2014 report. The objective of the audit was to assess whether the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) had effective systems and procedures to:

  • ensure the long-term sustainability of the sources of drinking water in the province;
  • reduce health risks and potential future costs by effectively managing and protecting drinking water sources in accordance with related legislation; and
  • reliably measure and report on its performance.

It has been twenty years since the tragedy in Walkerton, and – unfortunately – local “Source Protection Plans” legislated under Ontario’s Clean Water Act, 2006 are only just being approved.

Source water protection is a general term for protection of all water supplies, no matter the end use (e.g. wildlife habitat, recreation). The efforts directed by the Clean Water Act should more accurately be called municipal drinking water source protection.

While the geographic scope of this legislation protects drinking water sources for the majority of Ontarians, most lakes and rivers are not included in the protections under the Act. By its very scope, and a focus on municipal water supplies, rural water is essentially excluded; that is to say, the 1.6 million Ontarians that depend on private wells, and those who get their household water from more than 250,000+ inland lakes or 500,000 km of rivers and streams. Ensuring this water is safe to drink requires homeowner vigilance and an understanding of “private” drinking water systems.

Note that untreated surface water should never be considered a safe source for drinking – no matter how clean or healthy the lake is!

Great Lakes still a concern

Despite being the source of drinking water for over 75% of Ontario’s population, plans may not include all potential threats to the Great Lakes, such as spills from industrial and commercial facilities.

Looking out for our lakes and rivers

There are a number of water quality monitoring programs for Ontario’s lakes, and rivers, but these are generally designed to assess aquatic ecosystem health and for basic water quality indicators such as acidity, calcium and phosphorus, and pollutants such as mercury, lead, PCBs.

A notable contribution to tracking water quality over time is the MOECC/FOCA Lake Partner Program, which relies on hundreds of volunteers each year. There are also a number of programs—government run, and/or in partnership with University researchers—that sample and test water, sediment, and aquatic life. (for more, visit http://foca.on.ca/resources/, search term: “Research”)

In her 2014 report, the AG noted concerns that there are significant incidents of non-compliance with the Nutrient Management Act, 2002 and its regulations, and that the MOECC’s enforcement activities are “weak”.

One particular gap also occurs related to the threat to water from fuel storage. Across Ontario, over 4,700 such threats to water intakes were identified in local plans, but have been poorly addressed for a variety of bureaucratic reasons, despite the identified need for improved inspections and reporting of fuel spills.

It is FOCA’s hope that the Province will follow up on the concerns of the AG, who notes the Ministry needs a long-term strategy to address funding and oversight of municipalities and Conservation Authorities to ensure the plans, once approved, are implemented. There is still a great deal of uncertainty about who will fund local plan implementation, particularly in smaller municipalities with a limited property tax base.

Further, there needs to be a process to update the threats to source water, and the policies to address these threats.

As members of the Trent Conservation Coalition (TCC), FOCA joined with our fellow source protection committee members in celebrating the October 23, 2014 approval by the Minister of the Trent and Ganaraska Source Protection Plans, and which came into legal effect January 1, 2015. This committee was charged with helping to develop the water protection plans for the Trent and Ganaraska Watersheds, which includes the Haliburton, and Kawartha Lakes regions. Other “lake and river” interests were represented on many of the other 18 source protection regions.

Earlier news

November 2015 – Ontario actually fares relatively well in a national assessment of safe drinking water sources, though most of the evaluation relates to the safety of MUNICIPAL drinking water…. See: Millions of people are still getting their drinking water from substandard municipal and private systems (National Post)

Related: Report : Waterproof 3 – Monitoring Canada’s Drinking Water 

To learn more about protecting your water at the lake or riverside, visit http://foca.on.ca/resources/ and see the links under “Lake Environments

Terry ReesSource Water Protection