Drinking water protection framework

After the tragic events of 2000 in Walkerton, Ontario took strong action to ensure our drinking water is among the best protected in the world.

Following the Walkerton inquiry, Justice O’Connor made 121 recommendations on a wide range of areas related to protecting drinking water. These recommendations are the building blocks of Ontario’s drinking water protection framework. The government has implemented all the recommendations.

Today, Ontario has a comprehensive drinking water protection framework from source to tap. Since reporting began in 2004, more than 99.8% of water quality tests continue to meet Ontario’s strict health-based water quality standards.

Our award-winning protection framework includes:

  • source-to-tap focus
  • strong laws and regulations
  • health-based standards for drinking water
  • regular and reliable testing
  • swift, strong action on Adverse Water Quality Incidents
  • mandatory licensing, operator certification and training requirements
  • a multi-faceted compliance improvement toolkit
  • partnership, transparency and public engagement

Ontario’s actions received an "A" ranking — the highest in Canada — in Ecojustice’s Canada’s Drinking Water Report Card. This is for implementing "the most ambitious source water protection program in Canada" with some of the country’s "strongest treatment, testing, operator training and public reporting standards".

Ontarians can be confident that they enjoy clean and safe drinking water. We are not done; Ontario will continue to take action to safeguard our water.

Protecting drinking water sources

Ontario has a multi-barrier approach to protect drinking water from source to tap. More than 99.8% of water quality tests continue to meet Ontario’s strict health-based water quality standards.

The first step is protecting the surface or ground water that supplies municipal drinking water systems. This is called source protection.

Justice O’Connor’s first recommendation was that drinking water should be protected by developing watershed-based source protection plans. This has been put in place.

Locally led protection

The Clean Water Act ensures communities protect their drinking water supplies through prevention – by developing collaborative, watershed-based source protection plans that are locally driven and based on science.

There are 19 multi-stakeholder source protection committees across the province representing business, public, municipal and indigenous interests. These committees have developed 38 local source protection plans that identify actions to protect sources of municipal residential drinking water systems. Together, these plans protect almost 450 municipal drinking water systems, an area where over 95% of Ontario’s population live.

Source protection plans cover the following regions:

Source protection plans

Source protection plans contain a series of locally developed policies that, as they are implemented, protect existing and future sources of municipal drinking water.

Municipalities, source protection authorities, local health boards, the Province and others, are implementing source protection plan policies, and are reporting on progress on a yearly basis.

Actions to address risks

Water sources can be polluted by a variety of sources including households and businesses carrying out routine, everyday activities. Pollutants can seep into the ground and contaminate the water table; rain can carry away wastes and chemicals to nearby streams and lakes. If pollutants reach drinking water intake areas, they can jeopardize the quality of the drinking water supply.

Drinking water supplies can be polluted by faulty septic systems, leaking fuel tanks, and the use of fertilizers, manure, pesticides and road salt. Water supplies can also be depleted if homes and businesses use more than can be naturally replaced. See the complete list of drinking water risks.

To deal with these risks, communities may change the land use to prohibit or restrict an activity. For example, a city might relocate a snow dump to better manage salt runoff or not allow a new waste disposal site if it’s to be near a water intake area. Also, the municipality or health unit may set up a septic system inspection program to encourage regular septic system care and maintenance. Many source protection plans set strict conditions on land use activities within 100 meters of a municipal well.

Ontarians can be confident that they enjoy clean and safe drinking water. Ontario will continue to take action to safeguard our water.

Protecting Ontario’s sources of drinking water is a shared responsibility. Find out more about your local source protection plan, what’s being done to protect the sources of your drinking water system and how you can help.

Updated: October 13, 2021
Published: December 08, 2014