The Ontario Drinking Water Stewardship Program – Early Response program was created under the Clean Water Act (2006) to provide the funding for projects that protect municipal water supplies from contamination. Landowners in Well Head Protection Areas (WHPA) and Intake Protection Zones (IPZ) may be eligible to apply for grants to reduce the risk. Communities will be required to form a plan to protect the sources of the drinking water for the municipality and take action to reduce the risk.
From spring 2007 to spring 2010 there was twenty-one million dollars available in total for projects like decommissioning or upgrading wells, septic system inspections, runoff and erosion control, and pollution prevention reviews for businesses.
Surface pollutants can potentially get into ground water through abandoned, unsealed, or improperly maintained wells. The risk of contamination to local aquifers and drinking water sources can be reduced by upgrading, repairing, or decommissioning such wells. If a landowner has a well in an area that could contaminate groundwater of municipal sources, then he qualifies for the grant.
The protection of public water sources is refreshingly open to public participation. The planning process is open to the community; the act also requires that the plans and actions be based on good science. This has been the tradition since 1882 when they brought out the Municipal Waterworks Act to begin a municipal water system – paid for by municipal taxes rather than provincial funding.
The need for constant maintenance of clean water systems was made apparent by the Walkerton tragedy where, in May 2000 drinking water contaminated with E. coli and campylobacter bacteria killed seven people and made over 2,300 ill. A number of pieces of legislation dealing with preserving clean water were passed after Walkerton, including the Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act., the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Nutrient Management Act, and the Drinking Water Systems Regulation.
There are about two dozen laboratories licensed by the Provincial government to carry out water quality testing in Ontario. The Province has been a leader in clean water technologies through the participation of municipal, provincial, and federal governments. The safe treatment of wastewater and the access to clean drinking water are ensured by those laws. Municipalities first managed Ontario water systems in 1849 with the passage of the Baldwin Act (Municipal Act). Until that time water systems were owned by private citizens.
Farmers, landowners, and small and medium businesses can get financial assistance for activities that reduce threats of contamination to water sources. Protecting the water resources is everybody’s responsibility so there are dozens of laboratories licensed to carry out well testing and other water testing services to prevent a rash of deaths similar to Walkerton.
The second phase of the Ontario Drinking Water Stewardship Program started in January, 2011 under the supervision of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment that represents the province’s 36 conservation authorities. The second phase is voluntary and tackles specific threats to public water sources. Over 2,100 projects were supported by the ODWSP in its first four years.