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Source Water Protection

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Source Water Protection?

  • It is the protection of water resources such as lakes, rivers and groundwater from contamination or overuse.
  • Water is critical to all aspects of our lives. Protecting water sources is important because it ensures there is enough safe water for all of our uses - now and in the future.

What is the source of our drinking water?

  • Our drinking water comes from two major sources: surface water and groundwater. Surface water includes lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. Groundwater comes from underground aquifers.
  • Groundwater and surface water are interconnected, flowing from one to the other.

Is our drinking water safe now?

  • Yes. We currently employ several measures to prevent our water from becoming contaminated to ensure it is safe and clean from the source to our taps.
  • We currently protect sources of water by monitoring and managing our lakes, rivers and streams, by using up to date water treatment systems, by ensuring that pipes, watermains and storage towers are in good repair, by testing it regularly, and by the ongoing training of water managers.

Why is it important to protect the sources of our drinking water?

  • It is important in order to safeguard human health, as well as to ensure there is an adequate supply of water now and in the future.
  • Because it is very costly to treat water to make it safe for drinking and because conventional water treatment methods cannot remove all contaminants.
  • More than two million Ontario residents get their drinking water directly from surface or groundwater sources and do not have access to water treatment systems. By protecting water at the source we ensure these people have a safe and healthy source of drinking water.

Don't we have an unlimited supply of fresh water in Canada?

  • No. All of the water we use is recycled through a natural water cycle:
    • Water falls to the earth as precipitation then infiltrates the soil where it is absorbed by plants. It then moves through the ground in aquifers and is discharged back into streams and lakes. Water is returned to the atmosphere by plants and direct evaporation from surface water.
  • Our supply of groundwater is endangered when water is taken out of the ground more rapidly than it naturally recharges.

What is the best way to protect source water?

  • By managing the influences on it – both human and natural.
  • Water is contained and flows within watersheds, therefore, the most effective way to manage our water resources is on a watershed basis.
  • As water flows across the watershed it crosses forests, farmlands, towns and cities. Along the way it is impacted by a variety of different activities.
  • The fewer negative impacts on the sources of our water throughout the watershed the greater the chance that the water coming out of our taps will be safe and healthy.
  • Protecting the sources of our drinking water is absolutely essential to our health and our standard of living.

How are our sources of water threatened?

  • By:
    • Natural contaminants.
    • Irresponsible land use activities that contaminate the water or deplete the resource.
    • Urban development, which can make it difficult for water to filter into the ground to replenish groundwater sources. When this happens, water flows across the surface of land rather than percolating downward into underground aquifers.
    • Air pollution from vehicles, coal plants, industry and other sources. The pollutants fall directly onto surface waters or enter water sources through surface runoff.
    • Climate change. There is concern that the warming of the earth's atmosphere as a result of climate change will reduce the amount of water available in lakes, rivers and streams due to reduced precipitation and increased evaporation.

How can we best protect sources of water?

  • By employing effective planning that involves all water users in the process.
  • By developing and employing source water protection plans. A source water protection plan is a management strategy designed to minimize the impact that human and natural activities have on the quality and supply of our water resources.
  • Source water protection plans include many components, including geophysical information about our watersheds, the identification of sensitive areas where water resource supply and/or quality is threatened, scientific data about the quality and supply of current water resources, up to date mapping and computer projections about future water resources, and recommendations to manage the impacts of harmful activities.

Does source water protection take place today?

  • Yes. Conservation Authorities, Municipalities and other agencies already plan and deliver water resource management programs and services throughout many parts of the province. This work needs to expand.
  • The Source Water Protection initiative will formalize much of the work already underway throughout the province and will provide additional valuable tools and resources for land use and water resource managers.