The legacy of the Walkerton contaminated water tragedy, one that claimed seven lives and sickened more than 2,300 residents of that Ontario town, is a multi-barrier protection system for drinking water that effectively ensures that clean water is delivered consistently to 82% of Ontario residents. But without secure and predictable funding, those protections may be at risk, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe warns. And that says nothing about the other 18% of Ontarians — First Nations, remote northern communities, and residents who rely on private wells — who are outside the province’s source water protections.
“99.8% of municipal treated drinking water samples met provincial criteria last year,” Saxe told media at the November 13, 2018 release of her annual environmental protection report. “But I can’t count on that continuing to be that way if the province ends its funding for source water protection on March 31,  which appears to be what they’re now planning.”
“Back to Basics”, Saxe’s four-volume 2018 Environmental Protection Report, is intended to remind Ontario that relatively inexpensive fixes can have an outsized impact on the environment. With respect to municipal treated drinking water, that 99.8% success rate stands on a foundation of source protection committees that have identified hundreds of threats to drinking water and that have done what they could to deal with them.
There are 38 such committees in Ontario, and much of the heavy lifting has already been done: $224.3 million were spent to set them up and support their science-based studies, $24.5 million were spent through 2013 to help landowners protect water sources, and another $14.1 million have been transferred to small municipalities.
The government can count on the costs of source protection going down, but they won’t go down to zero, the report warns. The government has committed to funding source protection only through March 31, 2019. After that, the report warns, it’s up in the air.