August 26, 2002

Ontario to consult on drinking water law, Nutrient Management Act regulations

The Ontario government will be launching stakeholder and public consultations this fall on the development of new provincial drinking water legislation and regulations under the recently-passed Nutrient Management Act. Both initiatives are part of Ontario's comprehensive Clean Water Strategy. They are also aimed at implementing recommendations made by Commissioner Dennis O'Connor in Part II of his Report of the Walkerton Inquiry (ELW June 3).

"Commissioner O'Connor was firm about Ontario's need for legislation that would ensure the safety and sustainability of our drinking water. In one act, we would deliver on 50 of his 93 recommendations from Part II of the Report of the Walkerton Inquiry," said Environment Minister Chris Stockwell.

The government also anticipates introducing a Safe Drinking Water Act this fall. This legislation would build on portions of a private member's bill introduced by MPP Marilyn Churley (Bill 3-ELW June 3).

Consultations with key stakeholders and the public on technical details concerning the implementation of the proposed Safe Drinking Water Act will begin in September. Comments will also be solicited through the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry.

Among the issues to be addressed will be: licensing and accreditation of laboratories that test drinking water; the establishment of a standards advisory committee; certification and training of operators; a requirement for an owner's licence for municipal water systems; a statutory standard of care for municipalities; and strengthened compliance and enforcement. These consultations are in addition to the extensive public process Commissioner O'Connor undertook through the Walkerton Inquiry.

The government has also reaffirmed its commitment to meeting Commissioner O'Connor's recommendations on moving towards full cost pricing of water. Included in Ontario's current funding commitments is an allocation of $245 million to enhance water quality, including investments to help municipalities upgrade their water systems and make improvements to their wastewater systems.

The province further says it intends to proceed with the establishment of a $50-million Clean Water Legacy Trust and the Clean Water Centre of Excellence in Walkerton to provide access to the best scientific knowledge, research, technology and training in drinking water management and monitoring. Other clean water commitments include conducting groundwater studies to support the development of source water plans, and consulting with key stakeholders on watershed-based planning issues this fall.

Through its SuperBuild program as well, the government has posted the first four of eight studies on the province's water and wastewater infrastructure. Produced co-operatively by the province, municipalities and third-party organizations, these studies provide up-to-date data on the condition, organization, investment levels, governance, and pricing/financing of Ontario's water and wastewater infrastructure. These studies will serve as a basis for formulating policy options to support Ontario's goal of ensuring clean, safe and reliable water and wastewater services. The first four studies are available on the Internet at www.SuperBuild.ca; the remaining studies will be released later this year.

Consultations on regulations under the new Nutrient Management Act were announced by Stockwell together with Agriculture and Food Minister Helen Johns last week at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario's annual conference.

The Act, passed on June 27, 2002, aims to enhance the protection of Ontario's water resources by minimizing the effects of agricultural practices on the environment, especially as they relate to land-applied materials containing nutrients. The protective measures outlined in the legislation are consistent with Commissioner O'Connor's recommendations in Part II of his report.

Province-wide consultations will be carried out in at least three stages. Stage One, now under way, will focus on the content requirements for nutrient management plans (NMPs), which set out the best ways to use nutrients in manure, commercial fertilizers and other nutrient-rich materials in order to maximize economic benefits while minimizing environmental effects; and the categories of livestock operations that will be required to prepare these NMPs.

Stage Two consultations will begin in October 2002, and will include other regulations that address the specifics contained in most municipal nutrient management plan by-laws. Among these are: land application; setback distances for applying nutrients around waterways and other sensitive features; restrictions for spreading nutrients on snow-covered or saturated land; and the MOEE's strategy for the five-year phase-out of the application of untreated septage. These regulations are expected to be in force by March 2003.

Stage Three consultations will include regulations dealing with livestock access to waterways, manure haulage and transfer, and washwater and dead animal disposal.

At each stage of the regulatory development process, draft regulations will be posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights information registry (www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/env_reg/er/registry.htm), as well as the Ministry of Environment and Energy and of Agriculture and Food Web sites (www.ene.gov.on.ca and www.gov.on.ca/omaf ).

The dates and locations of the meetings will be posted on both ministries' Web sites in the near future.

More information is available from John Steele at the Ministry of Environment and Energy, 416/314-6666.

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