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Great Lakes Article:

Belleville - Ambitious plans for source water protection
By Louise Livingstone
Community Press Online
Published May 5, 2004


The government is going all out to protect water and human health. Theresa McClenaghan spoke about protecting water at source at the Nurturing What is Natural Conference at the Ramada Inn in Belleville, on April 15, organized by Quinte Watershed Cleanup and the Canadian Federation of University Women of Belleville.


McClenaghan is an environmental lawyer and was the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) representative for the Concerned Walkerton Citizens at the hearings of the Commission chaired by Justice O’Connor. After the hearings Justice O’Connor produced two critical reports which McClenaghan described as impressive in their breadth. The reports covered all aspects of providing safe drinking water, from protection water at source to water quality standards, treatment, monitoring, distribution, administration and regulation.


McClenaghan was a member of the last provincial government’s Source Protection Committee, which reported in April, 2003. She is now on the Implementation Committee set up by the Liberal Government following the publication of its White Paper on Watershed Based Source Water Protection in February, 2004. She is also on the provincial Nutrient Management Advisory Committee.


The government has set up two committees: the Implementation Committee and a Technical Committee. They have 16 months to recommend how source protection is really going to work in Ontario. They have been asked to recommend a watershed based source water protection program, which involves local stakeholders and the public; a legislative framework for the development and approval of source water protection plans; and on ways to enhance Ontario’s management of water takings, including improvements to the existing Ministry of the Environment’s (MoE) water takings program. The committees are also looking into a system of charging for water taking.


“The White Paper consultation is the latest in a series of recent government actions aimed at protecting water at the source,” said McClenaghan.


“On December 18, 2003, the McGuinty government announced a one-year moratorium on new and expanded water taking permits for products such as bottled water. The moratorium is in effect until December 31, 2004, when it is hoped new rules should be in effect
The Implementation Committee has the remit of providing advice on tools and approaches to implementing watershed based source protection planning, and will also examine a variety of funding mechanisms and incentives.


The Technical Experts Committee is providing advice on how to quickly identify and effectively address possible threats to drinking water, providing advice on areas including: identifying high, medium and low threats to water; linking groundwater protection to surface water management; the effects of water takings on the availability and quality of drinking water; effective risk management tools for various levels of threats; and protecting both current and future drinking water sources.
“The ultimate responsibility is with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment with others sharing responsibility. The aim is to protect human health, current and future, and it includes protecting rivers, lakes and groundwater from contamination and depletion,” said McClenaghan.
It is not just well head protection, but includes the Great Lakes which supply water for a large percentage of Ontarians. According to McClenaghan, there are cautious discussions about having a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) for the entire Great Lakes Basin. She said, “Source protection plans will help Great Lakes and source water protection should be incorporated in future Great Lakes Agreements.”
She went on to say, “Water is a finite resource and the committee is looking at historic, existing, new and future uses of water. The committees will recommend a precautionary approach which uses the best available science with continuous improvements, shared responsibility with water managers, water users and land owners, and also stewardship, public participation, and transparency. Recommendations need to be cost effective and there needs to be continuous improvement.”


In terms of legislation, McClenaghan said there will be an amendment to the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) and a new Source Water Protection Act. This new Source Water Protection Act will take precedent, and where there is a human health issue at stake source protection will take precedence. The key tool is the Source Water Protection Plan and Official Plans will be modified to be in line with source protection. Permits to take water, and certificates of approval, will have to be in line with the Source Water Protection Plan.
“The phase-in period for Source Water Protection Plans will be five years after the legislation is passed, and the first round of Source Water Protection Plans will be done in two years,” said McClenaghan. “The government is ambitious but wants the job done right.”


Other legislation will have to be consistent with source water protection legislation; this includes, for example, brown field legislation, nutrient management, the Planning Act and Provincial Policy Statements. Drinking water standards should also apply to First Nations as Justice O’Connor found there was no justification for lower standards.
According to McClenaghan, “The Implementation Committee is looking for innovative funding mechanisms; ways of defining valuable and sensitive areas; and ways of having consistent decisions making. The committee is calling for a standard approach based on geology, which identifies areas vulnerable to contaminants. One needs to know what the potential threats are, how they can be prioritized, and what factors should be used in assessment. One has to get consistency across the province.
“Land use planning and certificates of approval must be consistent with Source Water Protection Plans. Source Water Protection Plans should look at potential new uses as well as the impact of emissions, water taking and bio solids. Groundwater studies will identify pathways [of potential contamination.]


“The question is what are the potential threats and how can they be prioritized, on what scale can they be assessment, and what factors should be used in the assessment?” said McClenaghan.
“There needs to be consistency across the province. Source Water Protection Plans need to have status in Official Plans. There needs to be [long-term] financing to develop the plans, although the province will fund the first round.” McClenaghan suggested paying for water in the rates, and polluters paying as ways of financing source water protection.
She referred the audience to the CELA web site <www.cela.ca> and also to New York City which has various programs to assist farmers to practise sustainable agriculture in the water catchment area for the city.

 

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