Law Reform: Safe Drinking Water for All

18% of people in Ontario don’t have sufficient legal protections for their drinking water

That’s over 2.6 million people whose water is at risk of contamination – from sewage works, landfills, manure application, road salt… the list goes on.

Despite passing legislation over 15 years ago that provides the mechanism to protect drinking water, it still hasn’t been implemented everywhere in Ontario.  In 2006, the Ontario Legislature enacted the Clean Water Act (CWA), which allows for a multi-barrier approach to protecting drinking water, including protecting water at its source, treating it, inspecting it, testing it, and finally delivering it – clean and safe – to your tap.

The CWA establishes a process for developing enforceable plans – source protection plans – that identify and protect drinking water sources against significant threats to water quality or quantity.  But those plans generally only safeguard people who are served by municipal drinking water systems located within source protection areas. Even within those source protection areas, not everyone’s water is protected. Many of the people and communities left out of the CWA’s safety net are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in the province.

Too many people in Ontario still don’t have critical, multi-barrier protection for their drinking water. Gaps in the rules in Ontario mean the following drinking water sources are left unprotected:

  1. Water sources utilized by many Indigenous communities, with differing technical, financial, and jurisdictional challenges, depending on whether the sources are within, adjacent to, or outside defined source protection areas.
  2. Drinking water sources located outside a defined source protection area, including many municipalities.
  3. Drinking water sources – such as aquifers supplying private wells used by residents of towns, villages, and hamlets – that may be located within a defined source protection area but excluded from the protective plan policies that only apply to municipal wellheads or intakes in surface water bodies.

Everyone in Ontario Deserves Clean, Safe, Protected Drinking Water

It is unacceptable that the CWA has been selectively applied in a manner that only protects source water for some – but not all – residents of Ontario. 

In order to ensure safe drinking water for all, CELA continues to call on the provincial government to: 

  1. Develop appropriate CWA reforms to better accommodate or assist source protection planning for drinking water systems serving Indigenous communities;
  2. Expand the application of the CWA to non-municipal systems, such as private well clusters in settlement areas and domestic wells serving vulnerable persons (i.e. schools, day camps, retirement homes, etc.)
  3. Substantially improve Ontario’s Regulation 903 (Wells) to provide effective and enforceable provincial standards for establishing, disinfecting, maintaining and decommissioning water supply wells.

Source Protection Plan is a strategy and suite of policies designed to protect municipal sources of drinking water from contamination and overuse.
Multi-Barrier Approach is an integrated system of procedures, processes and tools that collectively prevent or reduce the contamination of drinking water from source to tap in order to reduce risks to public health.