Minister of Environment Leona Dombrowsky today announced that a draft Drinking Water Source Protection Act has been posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights registry for public comment. The government intends to introduce the legislation in the fall sittings of the Legislature. Over the summer, the government will hear from the public and receive the recommendations from the two provincial advisory committees on implementation, funding and technical issues.
“Source protection legislation for Ontario is essential if we are to avoid repeating the tragedy of Walkerton,” stated Theresa McClenaghan, counsel with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. CELA represented the Concerned Walkerton Citizens in all phases of the Walkerton Inquiry headed by Justice O’Connor.
“In his report, Justice O’Connor stated that source protection was the necessary first barrier against drinking contaminated water,” McClenaghan said. Ontario has been implementing many of Justice O’Connor’s recommendations but the 22 recommendations he made toward drinking water source protection are not yet in place.
Among other things, watershed based source protection legislation as proposed would establish drinking water source protection boards and committees. They would prepare assessments that identify “the location of every water risk in the watershed.” Water risk is defined in the proposed legislation as existing or anticipated activities or things that contribute or potentially contribute to reduction in the quality or quantity of water in the watershed. The plans would also identify the location of natural features and hydrologically sensitive areas in the watershed.
In Justice O’Connor’s report, he suggested that watershed assessments would have to consider activities including not only agricultural sources but also municipal sewage treatment plants, urban runoff, septic systems, spreading of biosolids on land, and point source industrial contaminants, to name a few.
The draft legislation would require the source protection committees to classify water risks in accordance with regulations. They would identify which ones should be addressed on a priority basis, and which ones should be addressed by mandatory measures. In addition, the committees would identify the objectives for protection against those risks and the standards that would be used to determine whether the objectives have been achieved.
Source protection plans will have to specifically identify the persons and bodies responsible for implementing the measures. Theresa McClenaghan, counsel with the Canadian Environmental Law Association is a member of the provincially appointed Source Protection Implementation Committee. The government has asked that committee to advise on innovative funding tools and new implementation tools for source protection.
CELA also provides public legal education and is working with many of Ontario’s environmental non-governmental organizations towards implementation of watershed based source protection.
For further information, please contact:
Theresa McClenaghan, CELA Counsel 416-960-2284 ext. 218