Source Water Protection

Protecting Local Drinking Water is a Priority

Our drinking water comes from lakes, rivers, streams and underground aquifers – sources that are connected within a watershed. It is important to protect these sources of drinking water from becoming contaminated or depleted because it can be expensive or impossible to correct. This is the goal of Source Water Protection.

“Source water” refers to the lakes, rivers and aquifers from which we get the water we drink and use.

May 2000 – Walkerton Tragedy

The Walkerton tragedy showed us how vulnerable our drinking water can be when it is not managed properly. An inquiry into the tragedy recommended many changes to how we manage drinking water in Ontario. The recommendations emphasized a need for source water protection and recommended it be done on a watershed basis by Conservation Authorities.

Watch Walkerton: The Forgotten Stories

Walkerton: The Forgotten Stories from Mike Alfano on Vimeo.


October 2006 – Clean Water Act

Ontario passed the Clean Water Act which requires watersheds to identify threats to source water and create a plan to address them. Under this Act, Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority are working together (Mississippi-Rideau Source Protection Region) and with local municipalities to administer source protection locally. This process is being overseen by the Mississippi-Rideau Source Protection Committee who involves municipalities, farmers, businesses, industry, First Nations, environmental groups, residents and others in the process.

Why are Conservation Authorities Involved?

Water is critical to all aspects of our lives and it is important that we ensure there is a safe and reliable source of water for all our uses—now and in the future.

Our drinking water comes from lakes, rivers, streams or underground sources (aquifers) located across the province. All of these sources of water are linked in a watershed through the water cycle. Drinking water sources can be easily contaminated and have a limited tolerance for stress. Long terms problems can develop that are costly or even impossible to correct.

In order to make sure we have enough clean water for drinking and other uses, we need to protect sources by managing the influences on them. The best way to protect sources of water is on a watershed basis because water flows across traditional boundaries such as towns and cities. Conservation Authorities are the only watershed management agencies in Ontario that are organized on a watershed basis.

Drinking water is best protected by taking an approach that uses multiple barriers to prevent contamination from affecting our drinking water. Known as the ‘multibarrier approach’, it includes taking actions to prevent contamination of sources of our water, using adequate water treatment and distribution systems, water testing and training of water managers. In his Walkerton Inquiry, Justice O’Connor called for a multiple-barrier water management approach to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again. He concluded that source protection is one of the most effective and efficient means of protecting the safety of Ontario’s drinking water. He also made 22 recommendations related to source water protection planning, including the need to develop legislation that would require source protection plans to be developed and implemented locally for every watershed in Ontario. Read the Mississippi-Rideau Source Protection Plan.


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