Media Release: CELA urges Ontario to enact strong Safe Drinking Water Act

Media Release

The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) today called upon the Eves government to ensure that its proposed Safe Drinking Water Act contains the strongest possible measures to protect drinking water quality in Ontario.

It is widely anticipated that Environment Minister Chris Stockwell will introduce the Safe Drinking Water Act for First Reading in the Ontario Legislature on Thursday, September 26th as part of the Ontario government’s response to the Walkerton Inquiry recommendations. The new law will be an important step towards implementing the Inquiry recommendations. However, CELA is concerned that the water reform package will not include the critical component of source protection – that is, legal requirements to protection drinking water sources, including surface and ground waters.

“Source protection was cited in Justice O’Connor’s report as the first barrier in a multi-barrier approach to protecting drinking water for Ontario’s citizens,” said Paul Muldoon, Executive Director and counsel with CELA. “It is up to the Eves government to ensure that its proposed legislation delivers a comprehensive package to ensure effective and enforceable protection of drinking water.”

CELA has advocated the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act since the early 1980’s, and represented Walkerton residents during all phases of the Walkerton Inquiry. CELA has also authored a major paper for the Walkerton Inquiry entitled Tragedy on Tap: Why Ontario Needs a Safe Drinking Water Act.

“In our view, the legacy of the Walkerton Tragedy should be strong drinking water legislation”, said CELA counsel Richard Lindgren. “We trust that the proposed Safe Drinking Water Act will fully address all of Commissioner O’Connor’s recommendations.”At a minimum, Ontario’s Safe Drinking Water Act should include:

  • a preamble and statement of purpose that affirms the public right to safe drinking water;
  • strict testing, treatment, monitoring and reporting duties upon drinking water suppliers;
  • linkages to source protection/watershed planning requirements that are being developed under the Environmental Protection Act;
  • public participation opportunities in policy, approvals, and standard-setting under the Act;
    provisions that ensure that the “precautionary principle” is applied during decision-making under the Act;
  • provisions that require drinking water suppliers to assess and report upon the vulnerability of drinking water sources to contamination;
  • “community right-to-know” provisions to ensure public access to drinking water information;
    broad prohibitions and adequate penalties for breaches of the Act or regulations;
  • effective compliance and enforcement provisions, including a procedure for citizens to file investigation requests with the MOE Investigations & Enforcement Branch;
  • provisions that ensure the Act is fully subject to Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights; and
  • mandatory duties upon the Environment Minister to: set, review and revise drinking water standards that protect public health; and establish an Advisory Council on Drinking Water Standards.

“The entire water policy and land use planning system in Ontario must be coherent and consistent. It must rest upon the first barrier of source protection,” said Theresa McClenaghan, counsel with CELA. “The effectiveness of the rest of the barriers is compromised without source protection.”

Justice O’Connor recommended a framework for source protection planning to be developed within each watershed and approved by the Ministry of the Environment. All land use decisions would then need to be consistent with the source protection measures contained in each plan. Justice O’Connor recommended that the framework for source protection planning be developed within six to eight months of the release, last May, of his final report.

“We are expecting the government to honour its often-stated commitment to implement all of Justice O’Connor’s recommendations,” stated Ms McClenaghan.

CELA is currently preparing a detailed response to the Ministry of Environment discussion paper on a proposed Safe Drinking Water Act. Also in preparation is a detailed submission outlining the necessary elements of source protection legislation. CELA also intends to carefully scrutinize the text of the government Bill once it is available.

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For further information, please contact:

Paul Muldoon, Executive Director and Counsel, 416-960-2284 x219
Richard Lindgren, Counsel, 613-385-1686
Theresa McClenaghan, Counsel, 416-960-2284 x218
Ramani Nadarajah, Counsel, 416-960-2284 x217