Agencies get together to learn about Source Water Protection

Agencies get together to learn about Source Water Protection

by Michelle Minnoch – The Innisfil SCOPE

Members of various Conservation Authorities, councils, and municipalities took part in Thursday morning’s South Georgian Bay Lake Simcoe Watershed Region presentation on Source Water Protection (SWP).

The SWP initiative will familiarize the process to better understand the long terms goals,” said Don Goodyear, Manager of SWP for the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA).

SWP is the protection of drinking water sources from contamination and overuse. Goodyear said although it costs money to protect our water sources, the investment generates economic vitality and growth.

He said according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it would cost 40 times more to fix the problem, rather than to treat it from the beginning.

“The watershed is the most resourceful way to manage our water sources.”

The Lake Simcoe watershed is composed of the LSRCA, the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA), Black-Severn River, and the Severn Sound E.A. It is comprised of 59 municipalities and three First Nations communities.

While municipalities will still be responsible for water and waste management, SWP will identify areas of sensitivity and those at risk. SWP will be able to give those areas the tools needed for manageable and sustainable water.

“The Safe Drinking Water Act and Water Resources Act will remain in the realm of the Ministry of Environment – we hope there will be fewer cases of ground water contamination to address in future with SWP plans in place, and that existing municipal supplies remain safe sources of water – but those acts and the responsibility to oversee them will remain with the MOE,” said Goodyear.

He stated the federal government is responsible for fisheries and navigation, water on federal lands, water in territories and on reserves, and boundary waters. The federal government will share inter-provincial issues, such as agriculture, national water issues and health, with the province.

Municipalities are responsible for growth strategies – water and waste water infrastructure plans, development land use – planning and zoning strategies, license of on-site activities, including conducting wellhead protection programs.

Goodyear informed the audience about the Source Water Protection Committee (SWPC), one per watershed region, to be comprised of 16 committee members. Members of the committee are to represent various municipalities and make decisions about water protection unique to each community’s needs.

“The SWPC needs to reflect the interests across the watershed region and must be comprised of a variety of stakeholders,” said Goodyear. “The committee will have to balance the conflicting areas of a community.”

Ian Smith, Director, Drinking water Program Management Branch of the MOE was the second to address the crowd, and informed them about the Clean Water Act, Bill 43.

“One key factor is that local communities can best describe how to protect your water supply,” he said. “That’s the most difficult in developing the legislation.”

The Bill was introduced on December 5m 2005 and will likely see a second reading in the spring.

“Focusing on municipal supplies was a key decision in drafting the Act.”

Smith stated that the Bill was one of the most talked about pieces of legislation brought forth by the MOE.

He said the key steps to SWP was looking at vulnerable water sources, good science, bringing local partners together, putting plans into action, and staying vigilant.

“This plan has to be a no surprises plan. Everyone affected has input into the plan.”

Smith remarked it was important for the public to get a report card. They need to know what is being done for their water.

“I am confident the people designated in the Authorities are able to carry out that role.”

Within the Act, Smith said municipalities will be in the driver’s seat. The municipalities will own the work done for their water.

He said he fully anticipated funding within a week. Smith stated there needs to be a successful working relationship between the municipalities and the Conservation Authorities. He added that a few municipalities do not like the fact that money is being transferred to the Conservation Authorities.

“This is going to be a huge data incentive. Withholding information would be an infringement of the Act. We need to be clear municipalities maintain their roles and responsibilities.”

The Ministry is looking at communities to look at issues and make decisions. Part of the job the province has is to now level things out.

Smith said Bill 43 will provide municipalities with the authority to regulate significant drinking water threats.

“Approximately 10% of Ontario’s population lives in an area not covered by a Conservation Authority. The legislation will allow these municipalities to enter into the agreement.”

Smith said the government is committed to pay source protection planning costs. Approximately $120 million has been put aside for projects for 2004 – 2008. On November 29, 2005, the government announced an investment of $67.5 million over five years to protect sources of Ontario’s drinking water, including $16.5 million for Conservation Authorities