February 23, 2004

Ontario White Paper proposes watershed-based system for planning protection of drinking water sources

Ontario government officials will hold a series of meetings with regional and local stakeholders and experts in March on issues relating to source protection of drinking water. These discussions will be based on a just-released White Paper on Watershed-based Source Protection Planning which sets out a framework for source protection plans.

"In his Walkerton reports Justice O'Connor identified source protection as the missing element in ensuring Ontario's water is safe from source to tap," said Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky. "We will introduce a law that would require source protection plans to be developed and implemented locally for every watershed in the province. We want to work with local communities and everyone involved to ensure our legislation is fair, practical and effective."

The meetings will be held March 1 in London; March 2 in Kitchener-Waterloo; March 4 in Peterborough; March 5 in Kingston; March 8 in Ottawa; March 10 in Thunder Bay; March 12 in Sudbury; and March 23 in Toronto.

The White Paper was developed to consult with Ontarians on the proposed approach for the development of a locally-driven watershed-based source protection process. The document provides information on the planning aspects of proposed source protection legislation, improvements to the permit to take water (PTTW) program, and the principles and factors related to implementing a system for charging for water takings.

The White Paper proposes:

an approach for the development of a watershed-based source water protection program, with provision for involving stakeholders and the public at the local level;

a legislative framework for the development and approval of source water protection plans; and

improvements to the system of managing water takings, including the Ministry of Environment's Permit to Take Water (PTTW) program. Addressed as well are factors to be considered in designing a system of water-taking charges.

The first of the paper's four sections provides context for the discussion on source water protection and the government's actions so far on source water protection, such as the establishment of two expert committees on source protection. These include a technical experts committee to develop an Ontario-based threats assessment process and an implementation committee to conduct consultations on implementing source protection planning, including funding options.

The second section provides some background on source water protection and helps to answer some basic questions about source water protection, including definition of the concept.

The third section discusses the proposed planning components of source water protection legislation such as the organization, preparation, roles and responsibilities, approvals and appeal process for source protection plans. Implementation aspects of source protection legislation and regulatory details will be developed once the technical experts and implementation committees complete their work.

The major components of the legislation proposed in the White Paper are:

Watershed basis: Plans will be developed according to watershed boundaries.

Source Protection Planning Committee (SPPC): A local multi-stakeholder SPPC will develop the draft plan, its members representing municipalities, Conservation Authorities, First Nations, public health agencies, agriculture and other stakeholders. A co-ordinating body, such as the Conservation Authority (CA) Board in areas where a CA exists, will assist the SPPC, including its establishment.

Plan development: Plan development will involve a technical assessment phase and management strategy phase, with both forming the source protection plan.

Consultation: The SPPC will carry out a local consultation process throughout the planning process to elicit local support for the source protection plan.

MOE approval: The co-ordinating body will recommend the plan to the province for approval.

Appeal: limited rights of appeal will be available to challenge the approval of source water protection plans.

The fourth section of the White Paper provides information on the proposed improvements to the PTTW program. Improvements to the program may include:

ensuring a consistent level of stakeholder awareness and involvement;

improving the science to better understand the consequences of water takings through research partnerships;

monitoring and reporting of water use;

producing clear rules and procedures for making decisions on permit applications; and

creating incentives to promote water conservation and efficiency by all water users.

In addition, the paper outlines the key principles related to the government's intent to charge companies that remove water from the watershed for consumptive use. It describes charging frameworks in other jurisdictions and highlights the factors and considerations in designing such a framework for Ontario, such charge variability, frequency, and exemptions.

In conjunction with the proposed improvements to the Permit to Take Water program and the proposal to apply charges to certain water takings, consideration will also be given to the status of Ontario Regulation 434/03 made in December 2003 which places a one-year moratorium on the issuance of new and expanded permits to take water for certain uses such as the production of bottled water, and other uses that remove water from the watershed.

The White Paper has been posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry, accessed through the Ministry of Environment Web site, www.ene.gov.on.ca. (Registry reference No PA04E0003). Written comments will be accepted until April 12, 2004.

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