The Ontario government’s proposed Clean Water Act is essential for the long-term health of our communities and our environment, according to a coalition of sixteen citizens’ and environmental groups who released a joint statement this morning at the start of legislative committee hearings on the Act.
The Act lays out a formal process for identifying threats to the sources of our drinking water, and establishes local committees to address those threats. It also provides municipalities with much-needed tools to better protect their waters. Potential threats the Act will help address include bacterial contamination from human or animal waste, industrial pollution, urban runoff and water depletion from overuse.
“Protecting our sources of drinking water is pure common sense,” said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence. “This Act is a big step forward for water protection in Ontario, and it should be as strong as possible.”
“This Act makes drinking water source protection a top priority in local and regional planning decisions,” said Jessica Ginsburg, Counsel at the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “Its innate flexibility will allow communities to identify their true priorities and design solutions which are workable and effective.”
In 2004, a coalition of groups endorsed the Ontario Source Water Protection Statement of Expectations, which laid out an initial set of recommendations for the province’s source water protection legislation. According to the statement released this morning, the Clean Water Act will help the province live up to 12 of those 16 recommendations. The Act also supports the implementation of 22 of Justice O’Connor’s recommendations from the Walkerton Inquiry.
“I am optimistic that this Act will help improve the safety of our drinking water and hopefully avoid another tragedy like the one at Walkerton,” said Bruce Davidson, Concerned Walkerton Citizens. “The government has clearly heard our concerns and taken our recommendations seriously.”
Standing Committee hearings are being held this week in communities across the province to allow the public to comment on the proposed law. Today’s groups will participate in those hearings with ideas on how the Clean Water Act could be made even stronger, including:
Adoption of the precautionary principle.
Meaningful involvement of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.
Extensive and ongoing public participation and education.
Sustainable funding for the program’s implementation.
Equal source water protection for central and northern Ontario and for private water systems.
Incorporation of strong conservation measures.
Strong commitments to Great Lakes protections and integration with Great Lakes agreements.