Cataraqui Conservation continues to play an integral role in ensuring the safety of drinking water throughout the watershed. Part of its mandate has been to help create, manage, facilitate, and implement a unique Source Protection Plan for the Cataraqui Region.
The Cataraqui Region Source Protection Plan is one such plans developed in partnership with conservation authorities and local municipalities throughout Ontario in the wake of the Justice O’Connor Inquiry into the tragic circumstances surrounding drinking water contamination in the small western Ontario community of Walkerton in 2000. Seven people died and hundreds more became seriously ill in this incident. Six years later, the Ontario government introduced the Clean Water Act, which focuses on protecting municipal drinking water from source to tap.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, “Ontario has a comprehensive drinking water protection framework from source to tap. Since reporting began in 2004, more than 99.8% of water quality tests continue to meet Ontario’s strict health-based water quality standards.”
An upshot of the Act was the requirement for the development of Source Protection Plans for the aforementioned 19 separate, delineated Source Protection Regions in the province. Cataraqui Conservation’s Full Authority Board members are known under the Clean Water Act as the Source Protection Authority. They supported the formation of the Cataraqui Source Protection Committee, which led the technical and planning work necessary to put together the Cataraqui Source Protection Plan.
“The Plan contains policies to address and manage threats to drinking water. For instance, fuel storage tanks are a drinking water threat if located in a vulnerable area as a potential leak could contaminate the groundwater,” said Kelsey Guerette, Co-ordinator of Source Protection for Cataraqui Conservation.
A strategically crucial part of the plan is the evaluation and management of risks to the drinking water sources. This includes the development of Risk Management Plans to mediate some of these risks, which are mandated under Part IV of the Clean Water Act.
Properties in close proximity to sources of drinking water such as groundwater and surface water are assessed for the possible risk they may pose.
“If a significant drinking water threat is identified, then a Risk Management Plan is put in place with the property owner,” said Guerette, adding that there are professionals specifically tasked with maintaining and monitoring an inventory of properties that either have already been identified as risks, or which have the potential for risk down the road.
“There are Risk Management Officers and Risk Management Inspectors (RMO and RMI) whose job it is to assess the risks on properties in vulnerable areas. This could include check ins with property owners to confirm risks or potential changes and updating or establishing new risk management plans.”
According to www.cleanwatercataraqui.ca, there are five RMO and RMIs across the Cataraqui Source Protection Area. Some are municipal staff (for Front of Yonge and Gananoque), others are contracted from a specialized local firm (Leeds and the Thousand Islands, Brockville, Elizabethtown-Kitley, Kingston, South Frontenac). All RMOs and RMIs are required to complete a mandatory training course approved by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
Their role is to “work to ensure that requirements under the Clean Water Act and the Cataraqui Source Protection Plan are met. They provide necessary notifications, negotiate Risk Management Plans (RMPs) for certain activities of concern, develop and distribute information packages for property owners and ensure information about activities in the vulnerable areas is accurate.”
The Cataraqui Source Protection Area includes parts of three counties and all or part of the 11 municipalities within the Cataraqui Conservation jurisdiction, as well as the Township of Frontenac Islands (Howe and Wolfe Islands). According to the Cataraqui Source Protection Plan, in 2015 about 80 per cent of residents in the source protection area, or 170,000 people, rely on municipal drinking water from surface or groundwater sources, highlighting the importance of protecting this vital resource.
The Cataraqui Source Protection Plan is, in essence, a living document, in that tweaks and alterations are made by the Cataraqui Source Protection Committee as needed by changes in circumstance or government legislation. Cataraqui Conservation’s Guerette plays a pivotal role in acting as a conduit between all stakeholders, as well as facilitating the work of the committee.
“As the Source Protection Co-ordinator, I work on the annual reporting, I keep on top of the implementation status of the Source Protection Plan, and currently I am working on the plan update,” she explained.
“There are certain things that trigger an update to the Source Protection Plan. For instance, right now we are going through a Section 36 update, which is a Ministry directed update to incorporate the changes to the Director’s Technical Rules. This is a document that lays out the rules and requirements in developing our plan, and due to recent changes to this document we now have to update the plan to be in accordance with those changes. An update could also occur if a municipality was going to put another drinking water system in place, for example.”
For more information about the Cataraqui Source Protection Plan and Risk Management Plans, visit www.cleanwatercataraqui.
Next month, we will look at the risks to drinking water associated with handling and storage of heating fuel.