Source Water Protection Policy

In May 2000, heavy rain washed E. coli bacteria into a well providing water to the town of Walkerton. A series of human and mechanical failures allowed the bacteria to get into the municipal water supply. Seven people died and more than 2,300 were ill.

As a result, the Ontario government set up the Walkerton Inquiry under Justice Dennis O’Connor. He issued a two-volume report with 121 recommendations to prevent a similar event from happening again. The Clean Water Act implements some of these recommendations by employing a multi-barrier approach to ensure the safety of drinking water across all municipalities, from source to tap.

The first step in the multi barrier approach is protecting the surface water and ground water that supplies Norfolk County’s five water treatment systems. This is called Source Protection, and involves conducting a risk assessments and controlling these threats to our drinking water systems.

Click on any of the following questions to read more about each topic.


What is the Clean Water Act and how does it fit into source protection?
The Clean Water Act, 2006, is part of the Ontario government’s commitment to ensure the sustainability of clean, safe drinking water for all Ontarians and to implement the Walkerton Inquiry recommendations. It establishes the provincial framework for developing local science- based Source Protection Plans for each Source Protection Area in Ontario.

Protecting water at the source is the first step to a multi-barrier approach and an important part of ensuring the health of people, ecosystems and economies. Provincial laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act are in place to regulate other key elements of the multi-barrier approach including effective water treatment, adequate testing, rigorous monitoring, operator training, permits to take water and to regulate industrial pollution.

 

Where does Norfolk County source its water from?
The communities of Port Dover and Port Rowan/ St. William’s source their water from Lake Erie. Waterford and Simcoe are supplied by groundwater, and the Delhi/Courtland system utilizes a combination of ground water and surface water from Big Creek.

Each surface water intake has an Intake Protection Zone (IPZ) that prohibits activities that could contaminate the drinking water source. Similarly, each well-head has a Well Head Protection Area (WHPA) that ensures the groundwater surrounding each well remains contaminant-free.

You can look at all areas that are affected by source water protection policies on Norfolk County’s policy mapper.

 

What is a Well Head Protection Area (WHPA) or Intake Protection Zone (IPZ)?
A wellhead protection area (WHPA) is the area of land around the wellhead where land use activities have the potential to significantly affect the quality of water flowing into a well.

Similarly, an Intake Protection Zone (IPZ) is the area around an intake pipe in a lake or river that draws in the surface water where certain activities can negatively impact the drinking water supply.

 

Who protects source water in Norfolk County?
Norfolk County covers parts of both the Long Point Region and Grand River watersheds. A watershed is an area of land that catches rain and snow and drains or seeps into a common marsh, stream, river, lake or groundwater. These watersheds, along with Catfish Creek and Kettle creek, make up the Lake Erie Source Protection Region.

Norfolk County is one of many stakeholders that sit on the Lake Erie Source Protection Committee which is responsible for identifying and managing current and future threats to drinking water in the region. The committee has developed an official plan through science-based assessments and public consultations to reduce, eliminate, or manage the identified risks. Municipalities like Norfolk County, source protection authorities, local health boards, the province and others are required to implement the policies outlined in the plan, and report on their progress.

You can see Long Point Region’s Plan here, and Grand River’s plan here.
The committees publicly consult regarding important decisions. Notices will be posted on Norfolk County’s website when public consultation is taking place.

 

Why is it important to protect drinking water sources?
We need to protect the sources of our drinking water in order to safeguard the health of our residents and ensure there is enough water for all.

Treating drinking water is very costly, and some hazardous chemicals are extremely difficult to remove using conventional drinking water treatment systems. Therefore, the best way to ensure high quality drinking water is to keep source water clean and free of these difficult-to-remove contaminants.

 

How do I know if I’m affected by source water protection policies?
If you own property near a municipal well or a surface water intake, you may be affected by a source protection plan.

The source protection plan identifies two types of areas where the plan applies:

  • Wellhead Protection Areas (WHPA) around municipal drinking water wells.
  • Intake Protection Zones (IPZ) around river and lake intakes

Visit Norfolk County’s policy mapper tool that shows both zones where source protection policies apply.

 

What are drinking water threats?
Both the quality of our water and the amount available can be threatened by different activities. Drinking water threats fall within four major categories:

  • Natural and chemical contaminants
  • Irresponsible land use activities which contaminate our water or take too much out
  • Urban development which can make it difficult for water to filter into the ground in order to replenish groundwater sources. When this happens, water just flows across the surface of land rather than percolating down to recharge groundwater sources
  • Air pollution from vehicles, coal plants, industries and other sources that fall directly on surface waters or enter water sources through surface runoff

As a result of climate change, there is also concern that the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere will reduce the amount of water available in lakes, rivers and streams due to reduced precipitation and increased evaporation.

The following activities have been prescribed as threats by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), when occurring in vulnerable areas surrounding municipal wells or intake pipes:

  • The establishment, operation or maintenance of a waste disposal site within the meaning of Part V of the Environmental Protection Act
  • The establishment, operation or maintenance of a system that collects, stores, transmits, treats or disposes of sewage
  • Application, handling and storage of agricultural source material (ASM)
  • The application, handling and storage of non-agricultural source material (NASM), fertilizer, pesticides, and road salt
  • Storage of snow
  • Handling and storage of fuel, dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPL), and organic solvents
  • Runoff management: chemicals to de-ice aircraft
  • Activity that takes from, but does not return water to the same aquifer or surface water body
  • Activity that reduces the recharge of an aquifer
  • Use of land as livestock for grazing, pasturing, outdoor confinement or farm animal

View the detailed list of drinking water threats from the MOECC.

 

What about on-site sewage systems (septic tanks)?
The Clean Water Act identifies on-site sewage systems as one of the 21 potential significant threats to drinking water. The Ontario Building Code was amended in response. It requires inspection programs to identify systems that are not being maintained properly and therefore pose a public health threat.

All properties with on-site sewage systems located within high vulnerable municipal Well Head Protection Areas (WHPAs) or Intake Protection Zone (IPZ) have a greater chance of affecting the municipal water supply well if they are not functioning properly.

Check to see if your property falls in a protected area using our policy mapping tool.


What can residents do to help protect our source water?

Farming practices, household hazardous materials and fuels; snow and road salt use; and over consumption all affect our drinking water. Changes to current processes and habits can help protect our drinking water. All of us – individuals, government, business and industry – have a responsibility to keep our water free from contamination and to protect our drinking water for ourselves and for future generations.

Click on any of the following to read more about each topic.


Farming
If your farm is located within a WHPA or IPZ, you may be required to implement best practices to protect the source water near your farm. Farming operations can have an impact on both surface water sources and groundwater. Fertilizers, pesticides, manure and nutrients can be washed into surface water bodies or leach into groundwater posing a risk to our drinking water sources.

See the source protection guide for agricultural land owners published by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for more information on agricultural best practices.

 

Household Hazardous Chemicals
Some common household chemicals and fuels can pose a risk to our drinking water sources if they are not properly stored, used, and disposed. A minor spill or leak of these hazardous compounds can contaminate large volumes of groundwater and surface water.

Hazardous Materials can include:

  • Organic Solvents
    Typically found in paints, adhesives, degreasers, cleaning products (used to dissolve substances such as oils, paint thinners, and glue solvents).
  • Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids (DNAPLs – pronounced dee-napples)
    Toxic chemicals typically found in paint removers, degreasers, and cleaning products.
  • Fuels
    Diesel, gasoline, home heating fuel, and lubricating oils including used oils.

How can you help?

  • Consider purchasing eco-friendly alternatives to hazardous chemicals.
  • Purchase only the amount of chemicals you need, and try to use up the entire container to avoid generating unnecessary waste.
  • Avoid transferring chemicals from one container to another container.
  • Dispose of fuels, chemicals, or other hazardous wastes at Norfolk County’s household hazardous waste disposal events free of charge. Click here to find out when the next depot event is.
  • Never pour chemicals or hazardous waste down the drain or into storm sewers.
  • Check your storage tanks regularly for signs of corrosion, staining under the tank, and strong smells of fuel or other chemicals.

 

Road Salt and Snow
Salt and snow plowing helps keep our roads, parking lots, walkways, and driveways safe, but may also potentially impact the quality of our groundwater and surface water sources. Runoff from rain and melt water that comes into contact with salt and plowed snow may contain chemicals that can drain into drinking water sources.

  • Stop snow and ice from accumulating by shoveling and sweeping as soon as possible after or during a snowfall.
  • Shovel or plow your snow instead of applying road salt.
  • Avoid storing snow in areas where melt-water drains across paved surfaces towards catch basins or ditches.
  • Move drainage discharges from downspouts away from walkways or driveways.
  • Pile snow so that it will not run across paved surfaces when it melts. Snow may melt during the day and freeze on the pavement at night requiring more salt.
  • Consider using alternative de-icer materials that contain less sodium and chloride. Use only what you need to melt the snow or ice on your driveway or sidewalk and do not over salt.
  • Apply abrasives such as sand during colder temperatures to improve traction.
  • Sweep up loose salt, sand and de-icer to stop it from being washed into water sources when a melt occurs. Return salt to your salt storage. It is still useful and effective for melting ice.
  • For bulk storage of salt on site, such as malls and parking lots, store salt on waterproof pads with a cover – preferably with a permanent roof. Store liquid de-icing chemicals on waterproof pads in tanks protected by cement posts/walls.

 

Water Usage
Conserving water helps protect the underground reservoirs that our drinking water is extracted from. By following a few simple best practices, we can all do our part to ensure longevity in our water sources.

Visit our water conservation guide to find out how you can conserve water every day.


Drinking Water Protection Zone Signs

A sign pictured against as blue sky. The sign has the words "Drinking Water Protection Zone" with a glass of water in blue font on a white background.

Keep your eyes open for the new Drinking Water Protection Zone signs! They are appearing across Ontario to raise awareness about our drinking water sources and to protect our health. The signs are part of Ontario’s Source Water Protection program under the Clean Water Act, which empowers communities to better protect their local water sources.

Governments at the provincial and local level are placing signs where a pollution spill could have a significant negative impact on our drinking water. You will see the signs as you drive through a drinking water protection zone. Placement of the signs depends on whether drinking water sources are vulnerable in that area.