September 18, 2006

Ontario proposes $7M program under Bill 43 to help reduce drinking water threats

Proposed revisions to Ontario's Bill 43 (the Clean Water Act) would create a drinking water support program for rural Ontario. The financial assistance program would initially provide $7 million to help farmers and small rural businesses carry out activities that reduce threats to drinking water.

"This funding would make it easier for farmers and small rural businesses to keep our sources of water free of contamination," said Environment Minister Laurel Broten.

A motion filed by the provincial government on September 6 as part of proposed amendments to Bill 43 would enshrine the financial assistance program in legislation. If the amended bill is passed and enabling regulations made, the program would initially make $7 million available in 2007/08 for early action to protect drinking water, including:

* $5 million to support early action to protect land and water surrounding water wells (wellhead protection areas) and close to municipal water intakes (intake protection zones); and

* $2 million to support local education and outreach related to source protection planning.

"As communities complete their source protection plans, we'll know better what the costs of implementation are and how to effectively direct sustainable future funding to address that," Broten added.

The minister is also proposing to establish a special advisory panel made up of agricultural, municipal and conservation authority representatives to make recommendations about how the funding should be administered and allocated in future years.

"This initial investment of financial assistance will facilitate real action in smaller communities," said Doug Reycraft, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). "It means municipalities and property owners can better work together to protect local water supplies." Ron Bonnett, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, observed that, "This first stage financial assistance goes a long way toward addressing the concerns of the farming community." The initiative "will encourage more property owners to take quick action to protect local water sources," said Dr Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence.

The Ministry of Environment has filed a number of motions suggesting amendments to Bill 43, the proposed Clean Water Act. In addition to the financial assistance program, some of the more significant proposed amendments include:

* Replacing permits with risk management plans;

* Giving risk management officials and property owners the ability to agree upon a negotiated risk management plan;

* Increasing the appeal period for a risk management plan to 60 day;

* Allowing a First Nations drinking water system to be considered as part of the source protection planning process;

* Providing the Minister authority to require that a Source Protection Plan consider other drinking water systems;

* Clarifying that policies in a source protection plans may provide for incentive programs and education and outreach programs;

* Removing the maximum limit for Source Protection Committee membership;

* Requiring Source Protection Plans to incorporate policies aimed at achieving Great Lakes targets established by the Minister (where the Source Protection Authority has been directed by the Minister to prepare a report recommending policies for inclusion in the plan);

* Clarifying that municipal decisions under the Planning Act or the Condominium Act must conform to the significant threat policies and the designated Great Lake policies in the source protection plan, and must have regard to the other policies in the plan; and

* Ensuring that risk management officials have appropriate training and qualifications to develop plans with property owners. For instance, an official working with farmers would have training in biosecurity, health and safety protocols.

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