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Fact Sheet (2010)

Walkerton and Source Water Protection: Ten Years Later

Summary of Conservation Ontario’s Participation in Part II of the Walkerton Inquiry and Written Submissions

Position Paper
A major position paper entitled The Importance of Watershed Management in Protecting Ontario’s Drinking Water Supplies (Conservation Ontario, March 2001)

Expert Meeting Participation
Selective participation in a series of Expert Meetings to debate and discuss issues or papers. Topics included:

  • Contaminant Pathways Source Protection of Drinking Water
  • Government Responsibility
  • Provincial Regulation of Drinking Water Safety, including regulatory frameworks surrounding agriculture
  • Public Involvement in Drinking Water Safety
  • Management and Financing of Drinking Water Systems;

Public Hearing Participation
Involvement in a series of focussed public hearings with written recommendations on:

Submission 1
(PDF 44 KB)
Guiding Principles/Overall Role of Government

Submissions 2 & 3
(PDF 32 KB)
Provincial Government: Functions and Resources;
Relationship to other Public Institutions

Submission 4
(PDF 56 KB)
Source Protection including Financing

Submission 5
(PDF 60 KB)
Sources of Contaminants; Water Quantity

Additional Information

Walkerton Inquiry

The Walkerton Inquiry, as established in June 2000 by the government of Ontario, was a public inquiry into the E.Coli contamination of the water supply in Walkerton, Ontario in May 2000. The Honourable Dennis R. O'Connor, Commissioner was charged with preparing a public report of findings and recommendations to ensure the safety of the water supply system in Ontario. Part I of the Walkerton Inquiry focused on the exact circumstances surrounding the Walkerton contamination event while Part II of the Inquiry focused on public policy development for the protection of Ontario’s drinking water supply.

Conservation Ontario, on behalf of all Conservation Authorities and jointly with the Saugeen Valley and also Grand River Conservation Authorities, had standing for Part II of the Walkerton Inquiry. Conservation Ontario received $25,000.00 from the inquiry for its participation and significant ‘in kind’ contributions from its members.

  • Call For Mandatory Watershed Management To Protect Drinking Water
  • Recommendations
  • Summary of Conservation Ontario’s Participation in Part II of the Walkerton Inquiry and Written Submissions

Call For Manditory Watershed Management to Protect Drinking Water

Around the world, modern water treatment has utilized the concept of multiple–barrier protection of drinking water. While source water protection is the first barrier, it has not been sufficiently emphasized or incorporated into regulations or standards in Ontario. Conservation Ontario promotes the protection of drinking water at source as a permanent and integral part of a long-term, secure water supply strategy as well we stress that the watershed must be recognized as the viable unit for managing water and implementing source water protection.

Everything is Connected to Everything Else

Watershed management plays an important role in understanding the water cycle and characterizing surface and groundwater with regard to quantity, quality, and pathways for existing and potential contaminants — everything is connected to everything else.

The issue of water supply and source water protection is inextricably linked to other aspects of water and related land management. Water supplies may be derived from surface or groundwater sources and may serve a municipal supply network or private residences, farms, or businesses. Water supply sources are threatened in three ways by human activities in the watershed.

Firstly, the quantity of water available for supply is reduced by activities that decrease the infiltration of water into the ground (e.g. urban pavement) or channel water away quickly before it can infiltrate (e.g. urban and rural drainage). Secondly, the future availability of water supply is threatened by overuse such as excessive demand, inefficient water use, and inappropriate allocation. Thirdly, the quality of water available for water supply is threatened by pollution from both point and non-point sources. The importance of considering source water protection within a watershed context is emphasized because water supply is affected not only by human activities local to the water supply, but from anywhere upstream of the point of taking.

Requirements for Effective Watershed Management

Watershed management is not so much about managing natural resources, as it is managing the human activity that affects these resources. The watershed management process is a continuum that involves: data collection and analysis necessary for developing a plan; a variety of mechanisms for implementing the plan; the financial resources to carry out the plan; ongoing monitoring of the plan’s effectiveness; and a process for updating the plan. This process brings together all key stakeholders, thus providing the opportunity for all important issues to be considered, resources to be fairly allocated, and plan recommendations to be implemented. Stakeholders are more likely to participate in the implementation of the plan if they have been actively involved in its development. Public participation is an integral component of watershed management.

How To Implement Watershed Plans

Watershed plans can be implemented through a variety of mechanisms that are administered by several agencies at the provincial and local level. These can be categorized as land use planning (e.g. municipal zoning of sensitive areas such as groundwater recharge/discharge areas), regulations (e.g. restrictions on water takings), land and water stewardship (e.g. best management practices and water conservation), public land securement, and infrastructure development and maintenance. To ensure protection of source water supply and quality the implementation mechanisms must take into account local watershed conditions and constraints as identified by the watershed management plan. For the purposes of assessing these as they relate to source water protection, the key decision-support tools are water budget modelling, aquifer vulnerability studies and assimilation studies.

Although successful examples exist, the current practice of watershed planning in Ontario, often led by conservation authorities, has not been consistently integrated with drinking water supply planning typically led by municipalities.

Successful watershed planning provides a means for integrating planning for drinking water supplies with a broad range of water management objectives and results in improved effectiveness at meeting overall objectives. Often this approach to protecting drinking water sources will provide broader public/environmental benefits and vice versa.


Conservation Ontario’s recommendations to the Walkerton Inquiry focussed on improvements so that a base level of watershed management is provided to protect drinking water supply. Recommendations addressed the following needs:

  • clarified roles and responsibilities of the federal, provincial and municipal governments, conservation authorities and other agencies with respect to water management
  • an integrated provincial water policy framework for Ontario that recognizes the principle of watershed management and deals with all aspects of water
  • recognition of source water protection as a component of watershed management and as the first step in a multiple barrier approach to protecting drinking water
  • strengthening of the conservation authority model to advance watershed management and requirement for local agencies to prepare watershed management plans
  • watershed planning performance standards and mechanisms to ensure accountability
  • approval and licensing systems, where appropriate (e.g. permits to take water, certificates of approval for water and wastewater projects), to be guided by watershed management plans
  • research into water issues and development of decision support tools for local application
  • adequate monitoring programs to understand watershed systems and track watershed health
  • improvements to and maintenance of data management systems that are publicly accessible
  • effective implementation of watershed management and source protection through land use planning, regulation, land and water stewardship, and land securement
  • dentification and quantification of the roles of existing wetlands, forests and riparian areas as well as protection, enhancement and restoration of those that provide water quality and quantity benefits
  • recognition of public participation and partner collaboration as integral components of watershed management
  • mechanisms for adequate and stable source(s) of funding including cost recovery from water users (i.e. user pay principle), and from effluent dischargers (i.e. polluter pay principle) as well as funding from provincial and/or federal governments for broader public/environmental benefits (i.e. non-use benefits).