Ontario’s municipalities provide a fundamental service in delivering clean, safe water to residents and businesses.

Clean, safe and affordable drinking water is a critical component of our quality of life.  Since the 2002 release of Justice Dennis O’Connor’s Report of the Walkerton Inquiry, there has been an overhaul of the legislative and regulatory framework in Ontario to create safe and secure municipal drinking water across the Province.

The Clean Water Act, 2006 (CWA) has created a process aimed at protecting drinking water at the source (lakes, rivers, aquifers).  A key focus of this legislation is the preparation of locally developed, science-based assessment reports and source protection plans.  These reports and plans are used to identify and assess threats to drinking water sources and set out actions to address or mitigate threats to the water supply.

The CWA divides the Province into designated Source Protection Areas, following watershed boundaries, and creates 19 Source Protection Committees (SPCs) which must create plans that assess the threats to municipal drinking water sources in the area of municipal intakes and wellheads.  It is expected that the Ministry of the Environment will begin the process of implementing source protection plans sometime in 2013 and beyond.
Municipalities have worked hard to implement the legislative and regulatory changes that were passed by the Province as part of the recommendations that emerged from the Walkerton Inquiry.  Since implementing these changes, municipal drinking water systems have consistently scored near perfect results in the Ontario Chief Drinking Water Inspector’s annual review of drinking water system compliance.
The implementation of source protection plans is likely to rely heavily on municipal action to protect municipal drinking water sources.  Municipalities have consistently voiced their concerns about the costs associated with the establishment and maintenance of source protection plans as requirements may have impacts on existing water rates.
Given aging infrastructure and extreme weather events, it is highly likely that municipalities will need to undertake capital upgrades in drinking water, stormwater and wastewater management as well as acquiring properties in wellheads and intake areas and zones.  Risk management officials may also require further funding to manage potential risks from implementing source protection plans.
Until the plans are implemented, these capital cost impacts cannot be known.  To date, the Province has allocated funding to private landowners under the Ontario Drinking Water Stewardship Program to protect drinking water sources while offsetting the impacts of the works on these properties.  The 2013 provincial budget has also included $13.5 million over three years to small and rural communities to help assist with the implementation of source protection plans. Details on the distribution of this funding are pending.

Ontario’s Municipal Drinking Water Testing

Ontario’s near perfect scores represent some of the highest levels of compliance in Canada:

2004-05: 99.74%
2005-06: 99.84%
2006-07: 99.83%
2007-08: 99.85%
2008-09: 99.87%
2009-10: 99.88%
2010-11: 99.87%

Source: Chief Drinking Water Inspector’s Annual Report 2010-11