A source protection plan is a list of policies and programs to protect current and future sources of municipal drinking water from contamination and overuse.
The Ontario Clean Water Act 2006 requires communities to develop collaborative, locally-driven and science-based plans to keep water clean in wells, rivers, streams and lakes. It is easier, cheaper and safer to keep water clean at its source than to try to clean it up later.
In 2000, seven people died and thousands became ill because of polluted water in the municipal drinking water system. The Walkerton Inquiry Report recommended a "multi-barrier" approach to protect municipal drinking water systems in Ontario from contamination.
That means that there are multiple layers of protection built into the system:
Provincial laws and regulations passed in 2002 dealt with the first four barriers.
The fifth, source water protection, was addressed by the Clean Water Act 2006.
The Clean Water Act requires source protection plans to be developed on a watershed basis. A watershed is all of the land that drains into a river. Surface and groundwater move across municipal boundaries, so what happens in one municipality will affect another in the same watershed.
The Act set up 19 source protection committees across the province, including the Lake Erie Region Source Protection Committee. This committee is responsible for developing a source protection plan for each of four watershed, or source protection areas: Catfish Creek, Grand River, Kettle Creek and Long Point Region.
The committee leads a locally driven, science-based, multi-stakeholder process to develop source protection plans.
Municipalities get their raw drinking water from wells, rivers, streams and the Great Lakes.
In order to protect them, it is necessary to know:
In the four watersheds of the Lake Erie Region there are 247 municipal wells and 14 surface water intakes on rivers, streams and Lake Erie. Experts looked at the vulnerability of each source.
The Clean Water Act lists 19 human activities that are threats to water quality and two activities that are threats to the amount of water available.
However, the level of risk posed by each activity depends on a number of factors. For example, an activity close to a well is a higher risk than one taking place many kilometres away.
Experts examined municipal and other public records, and talked to property owners to learn where those activities are taking place.
For example, the storage of fuel oil and gasoline are potential threats to a water source, so locations of gasoline stations and homes with fuel oil tanks were identified. Manure use and storage is another potential risk, so farms near municipal water sources were mapped.
The long list of activities was studied to determine which ones posed the greatest threat to water sources. These are called significant threats.
The purpose of the source protection plan is to manage existing significant threats so they no longer pose a threat to water sources. Another goal is to prevent new significant threats from developing.
The Clean Water Act gives municipalities, conservation authorities and other agencies a number of tools they can use to manage risks.
The source protection committee worked with municipalities to determine which combination of tools would work best in each community. Those policies and programs make up the source protection plans.
Throughout the process, the public was invited to review and comment on the proposals. They could comment at public meetings and through written submissions to the source protection committee.
Work on the plans started in 2005. By the end of 2015 all four plans in the Lake Erie Region were approved by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.
Ministry staff reviewed each plan in detail to make sure the policies and programs were consistent with the goals of the Clean Water Act and that they would be effective in managing significant risks.