Belleville - Ambitious plans for source
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 OConnor. After the
hearings Justice OConnor 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
McClenaghan was a member of the last provincial governments
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 Ontarios management
of water takings, including improvements to the existing
Ministry of the Environments (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
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
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
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 OConnor
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
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?
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.