climate change

Around the world, humans are observing accelerated changes in climate – concerningly, overwhelming increases in the frequency and severity of extreme weather, including heatwaves, drought, major storms & flooding. These same trends have been observed across Eastern Ontario and are only expected to continue.

These trends toward climate extremes have profound implications for the quality and quantity of our local drinking water sources. Some of these trends and drinking water impacts include:

  1. Increased occurrence and intensity of heavy precipitation events and subsequent flooding: these events create large amounts of surface run-off that is easily contaminated (e.g., through contact with manure or chemicals present on the ground’s surface) before entering drinking water sources. Storm and flood events also have potential to cause physical damage to drinking water infrastructure, including to private wells and municipal systems.
  2. Increased occurrence of harmful algal blooms: increased surface run-off from storms and flood events delivers a concentrated influx of nutrients into surface water sources, which promotes the growth & development of harmful algae. (Watch our webinar to learn more about the issues with harmful algal blooms).
  3. A greater prevalence of waterborne pathogens: warming water temperatures provide an increasingly favourable environment for the proliferation of pathogens, while warming air and water temperatures allow for northern expansion of the distribution of infected host animals.
  4. An increase in freezing rain occurrence & winter flooding: an increase in freezing rain events is likely to result in an increase in the application of road salt – a well-documented water contaminant. A rise in winter flood occurrence will also make it easier for road salt to finds its way into drinking water sources.
  5. Longer and more intense periods of drought: throughout the summer season, this will put heightened pressure on drinking water supplies, leading to increased risks for periods of water scarcity.

With the increased pressures of changing climate, municipalities, ministries, non-profits, and other agencies and organizations have made efforts to prepare for and address some of these challenges. In the Cataraqui Source Protection Area, several municipalities have approved, or are in the process of approving, in-depth Climate Action Plans. These plans outline climate adaptation strategies, and opportunities to reduce the pace of climate change in our region.

The City of Kingston, the County of Lennox & Addington and Loyalist Township are just a few examples of local municipalities that have prepared and finalized Climate Action Plans.

The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) has also published a document outlining “Best Practices” for source water protection. This document provides recommendations and strategies to reduce drinking water contamination, and to preserve drinking water supply. While these practices have always been important, they are growing increasingly vital under changing climate conditions.

Given the severity of these issues, and their potential consequences to human health, it is critical that we take steps to protect our drinking water sources. The following list highlights some of the actions that individuals in the Cataraqui Source Protection Area should consider to maintain safe, high quality, and sufficient sources of drinking water:

7 Tips for Protecting Drinking Water with a Changing Climate:

  1. Regular well-water testing, especially after heavy rain and/or flood events to assess water quality. In your calendar, put a reminder to sample your water 3-4 times per year, or once a season.

  2. Repairing or upgrading existing wells that show signs of age or damage, to improve resilience to extreme weather conditions, and decrease the risk of contamination. Replacing shallow, dug wells with deeper, drilled wells, where possible, can further mitigate contamination risk.
  3. Inspecting wells for signs of new damage following major storm or flood events and decommissioning unused wells. Consider contacting a licensed well technician for advice on protecting your well against storm damage and properly sealing unused wells to remove contaminant pathways to groundwater.
  4. To prevent contaminant transport during flooding or heavy rain events, replace chemicals used with less harmful alternatives and store chemicals indoors in a secure fashion away from your well and nearby water bodies.
  5. Reducing road salt application as much as possible on personal property, by choosing salt alternatives (more information here). With more freezing rain events expected, shovelling early, before snow cements into place, can help reduce the need for salt; traction aids, such as sand, can also be effective in reducing slips and falls.
  6. Opting for drinking water friendly landscaping practices: planting native, and drought-tolerant plant species on your property will reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and require less added irrigation (which places pressure on drinking water supplies). Installing a rain barrel for garden irrigation during dry periods will further help protect drinking water quantity.
  7. When it comes time to replace water-using appliances (e.g., dishwashers, washing machines, toilets and even shower-heads), consider water-efficient versions that will lessen the demand on drinking water supplies.

Protecting drinking water sources is fundamental to protecting human health and well-being. As climate change trends continue to threaten the integrity of our drinking water, it is important to take preventative action to keep drinking water clean and plentiful.


For more information, check out the following resources:

Ontario Provincial Climate Change Impact Assessment: Technical Report: January 2023

Health Canada: Guidance on Waterborne Pathogens in Drinking Water: 2022

Government of Ontario: Blue-Green Algae

KFL&A Public Health: Harmful Algae Blooms

MECP: Best Practices for Source Protection