Ontario Officials Begin Water Source Protection Program

Ontario's new environment minister, Leona Dombrowsky, will take the first steps toward protecting the province's drinking water sources today by setting up two committees to advise her, according to a government spokesman.

One panel comprising technical experts will have the job of assessing the various threats posed to water sources. A second committee will provide advice to the environment minister on the complex task of implementing watershed-based source protection planning.

Protecting water sources based on regional watersheds – the areas that give rise to rivers and underground streams – was a key recommendation of the judicial inquiry into the 2002 tainted-water tragedy that killed seven and sickened 2,500 in Walkerton, Ont.

In that case, farm runoff contaminated with E. coli bacteria found its way into one of the rural town's wells and into the taps of its 5,000 residents.

While the previous Conservative government promised it would bring in legislation to protect water sources as recommended by the inquiry, that never happened.

Critics accused the Tories of failing to keep their promise. They also accused them of watering down legislation designed to limit the danger posed by agriculture to water sources.

However, an advisory panel appointed by the Tories did come up with a report in April containing 55 recommendations, none of which were implemented.

They included a call for source protection to take precedence over all other legislation where human health is at risk, and another requiring municipalities to participate in watershed planning.

Among the other recommendations was one to set up the two committees.

Dombrowsky will announce she is striking those panels Friday as part of an address to a conservation symposium in Alliston, Ont.

The Toronto Star

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