The Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 provides for the protection of human health and the prevention of drinking water health hazards through the control and regulation of drinking water systems and drinking water testing services. Ontario has a multi-barrier drinking water safety net, a framework designed to protect drinking water from the source to the tap.
The proposed regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act is intended to ensure that source protection plan policies can be put into place for new or expanded drinking water systems prior to drinking water being provided.
Part V of the Safe Drinking Water Act provides that an alteration cannot be made to a municipal drinking water system unless it is authorized by the drinking water works permit for that system. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (the ministry) is proposing to develop a regulation under subsection 168(2) of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Under that subsection, the Minister is authorized to prescribe requirements for applications or to prescribe conditions relating to drinking water works permits or licences for municipal residential drinking water systems. The new regulation would require that certain work necessary under the Clean Water Act be complete, and be endorsed by municipal council, before a municipality could apply for a drinking water works permit associated with a new or expanding municipal residential drinking water system.
The Clean Water Act, 2006 is another important part of Ontario’s multi-barrier approach to drinking water protection. The Clean Water Act established source protection areas and the process for the development of assessment reports and source protection plans for each of the areas identified. Assessment reports and source protection plans were developed and are now in place for every source protection area. Together these documents delineate vulnerable areas - wellhead protection areas and intake protection zones for water quality, and provide vulnerability scoring for those areas, identify where threats must be addressed, and establish policies to address those threats. The assessment reports and source protection plans may also identify areas where there is a potential for water quantity concerns.
Under the Clean Water Act, amendments to a source protection plan may be proposed by a local source protection authority. Municipalities play a critical role in this locally initiated amendment process and work closely with their respective source protection authorities to ensure that the plans are kept up to date. Where a municipality is proposing a new drinking water system or amendments to an existing system, the proposed regulation would make municipalities responsible for working with local source protection authorities to ensure that work needed to identify the vulnerable areas and to identify and address threats, is completed, endorsed by council and provided to the local source protection authorities in advance of an application for a drinking water works permit. This work will build on the foundational information already included in local source protection plans and funded by the province.
Condition of an Application to Receive or Amend a Drinking Water Works Permit
Under Part V of the Safe Drinking Water Act, all municipal residential drinking water systems are governed by two instruments: a drinking water works permit and a licence. Schedule A of the drinking water works permit describes the drinking water system, including the drinking water source(s). The owner of an existing drinking water system must apply to the ministry prior to altering the existing water sources (e.g., relocating a surface water intake) or adding water sources (e.g., adding one or more surface water intake or groundwater well). Similarly, where a new municipal residential drinking water system is proposed, the municipality must apply for a permit to establish the system and a licence to operate the drinking water system.
When new municipal drinking water systems are established or new wells or intakes are added to existing municipal drinking water systems, technical work is required to delineate areas where water quality is vulnerable, identify threats to drinking water and establish policies to protect the sources of drinking water in order to meet the intent of the Clean Water Act. However, the Clean Water Act does not set out timing considerations for the completion of this work and inclusion in amended assessment reports and source protection plans.
The proposed regulation would apply to municipal residential drinking water systems when they are proposing new or expanded systems with water sources that are within a source protection area, delineated in accordance with the Clean Water Act.
The proposed regulation would require owners of municipal residential drinking water systems to pass municipal council resolutions in support of any necessary amendments to the applicable assessment report(s) and source protection plan(s) prior to submitting an application for a new or an amendment to their existing drinking water works permit. Requiring the necessary vulnerable areas and associated source protection policies for water quality be established and endorsed by municipalities for new and expanding systems before the application for a drinking water works permit is assessed or issued, will ensure that source water protection provisions are in place before new or expanded systems provide drinking water to the residents of Ontario, improve accountability and ensure continued public health protection.
New and expanding municipal drinking water systems may be located in areas where there are water quantity concerns. Specific updates to water quantity assessments set out in the approved assessment reports established under the Clean Water Act are not included as part of the proposed regulation. Assessment reports should instead include a workplan to identify when and how any necessary water quantity assessments will proceed where the work will not be completed at the time of source protection plan amendments. Where a municipality does choose to undertake a water quantity risk assessment in advance of their application being submitted for their drinking water works permit, the work should be included in their amended assessment reports.
Evidence of a municipal council resolution in support of the assessment report and source protection plan amendments would be required to accompany an application for a new or amended drinking water works permit. The proposed regulation would also include an emergency exception, allowing alterations to be made to drinking water sources without this evidence where such alterations are necessary to address the emergency or prevent a drinking water health hazard.
The ministry is also proposing amendments to Ontario Regulation 287/07 “General” under the Clean Water Act which sets out the requirements for the preparation, approval and amendments of assessment reports and source protection plans (see separate posting EBR #013-1839 for details). These proposed amendments address implementation challenges and increase transparency related for minor plan amendments, including those related to properly decommissioned wells and intakes of municipal residential drinking water systems.
Discussion / consultation questions:
In your opinion, is the proposed regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act for municipal drinking water systems in source protection areas necessary to ensure source protection work is completed prior to bringing new or expanded drinking water systems online?
What advantages are there for municipalities and system owners with the proposal to require source protection zones to be delineated around new wells or intakes before a drinking water works permit is issued? Is there anything that the ministry should consider including in the regulation that would assist municipalities?
Is there anything else that you wish the Ministry to consider with respect to the proposed regulation outlined in this posting?