In May 2000, the Walkerton tragedy occurred as a result of E. coli contamination of the groundwater supplying a municipal drinking water well. Seven people died and thousands more became ill from drinking the contaminated water, many of whom have been left with life-changing chronic conditions. Justice Dennis O’Connor led a public inquiry and made numerous recommendations to better protect Ontario’s drinking water in the future. A key conclusion was the need to have multiple layers of protection in place, a concept commonly referred to as the multi-barrier approach. The first barrier is protecting the drinking water at the source or “Source Water Protection.”
October 2006 – Clean Water Act
The Ontario Government responded to the Walkerton Inquiry recommendations by strengthening existing legislation and introducing new legislation where needed. The Clean Water Act was enacted and the Source Water Protection program began. The focus of the Clean Water Act is the protection of rivers, lakes and groundwater that supply municipal drinking water systems (the large systems that serve villages, towns and cities). Source Water Protection planning was undertaken in 19 source protection regions across Ontario, including the Essex Region.
2007 – Source Protection Committee Established
The Clean Water Act stipulated that a local multi-stakeholder Source Protection Committee oversee the source protection program in each region. Municipalities, industry, small business, environmental interests, agriculture and the public are represented on the Essex Region Source Protection Committee. The Committee is supported by the Conservation Authority’s Board of Directors, which under the Clean Water Act, is referred to as the “Source Protection Authority.” The Committee was established in 2007 and continues to oversee our local program.
2015 – Assessment Report Approved
The Essex Region Source Protection Assessment Report is a compilation of studies looking at each watershed’s physical characteristics, water quality and quantity and land use. This report identifies vulnerable areas where certain activities that could pose a threat to drinking water sources.
2015 – Source Protection Plan Approved
The Essex Region Source Protection Plan contains policies to protect local drinking water sources. The policies were developed by the Essex Region Source Protection based on the science included in the Assessment Report. Mandatory policies apply to certain activities in the identified vulnerable areas. The Essex Region Source Protection Plan came into effect on October 1, 2015. The Plan and Assessment Report will be updated as required under the Clean Water Act or as new information becomes available.