23, 2004: Ontario is proposing new policies to protect
drinking water sources. It is another initiative emerging
out of the inquiry into Walkerton’s tainted water tragedy
almost four years ago. The rationale for the proposed rules
is the security of public health, the safeguarding of economic
sustainability and the protection of environmental benefits.
The proposed method is the development of a watershed-based
source water protection program.
Discussions within the Christian Farmers Federation on our
government’s White Paper on Watershed-based Source Protection
Planning have happened under a cloud of frustration and irritation.
This is a second major pollution prevention initiative involving
many farmers, while the details of the first -- the Nutrient
Management Act -- remain unclear. Farmers own the majority
of the lands that will be impacted by the new rules under
both of these programs. Another regulatory burden requiring
time, paperwork and financial resources is unwelcome, to say
However, the proposed watershed-based source water protection
program, at least gets some of the basics right, while the
Nutrient Management Act is likely to collapse like a house
of cards under its own weight. Here’s what works:
- Source water protection planning will be done locally
on a watershed basis. There is no notion of one-size-fits-all
for this hugely diverse province.
- Designing the pollution prevention plan will be the responsibility
of a local partnership of all the interests in a watershed
– a multi-stakeholder committee.
- Conservation authorities, long accustomed to managing
watersheds, will play a major role in leading the planning
- Protection plans will be based on risk assessments and
threat analysis. Paper trails, new management practices
or infrastructure improvements will not be mandated for
landowners and farmers without first documenting the risks
that warrant action.
But, the white paper also has serious shortcomings.
- Proposing four categories of water sources is OK; however,
the program needs to be absolutely clear that category four
is not drinking water. There must be no expectation that
every drop of water in the province is going to meet drinking
- The approval process for source protection plans must
include a formal public hearing.
- The program needs clear-cut assurances that municipalities
and conservation authorities will be bound by an approved
source water protection plan just as landowners and farmers
- Many of the concepts in the program: threats analysis,
water resource sensitivity analysis, water resource vulnerability
analysis and risk analysis compilation, need to be translated
into plain English.
The biggest shortcoming is money. To be complete, a watershed-based
source water protection plan should stipulate the full details
of the cost of implementation. The Ministry of Environment
should be prohibited from approving a plan without a commitment
to provincial cost sharing for 90% for plan preparation and
implementation by conservation authorities, municipalities,
landowners and farmers.
response to the White Paper on Watershed-based Source Protection
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