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The Detroit River

Sourcewater Protection

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Source water is the water that Water Treatment Plants use to supply us with safe, clean drinking water. In the Essex Region, our municipal drinking water comes from Lake Erie, Lake St . Clair and the Detroit River. There are eight municipal Water Treatment Plants (WTPs) that serve over 95% of the population in the Essex region. The remaining population, less than 5%, depends on groundwater or hauled water.

Drinking Water Source Protection has been identified as the first line of defense in protecting drinking water. The Essex Region Source Protection Plan is a local watershed-based plan developed by a Source Protection Committee in consultation with municipalities, community groups and residents. Following the Clean Water Act, 2006, the Plan contains policies to ensure that identified potential risks are prohibited, or managed in a way that protects our drinking water. Following an extensive process that included broad public input, the Essex Region SPP came into effect on October 1, 2015.

What does Sourcewater Protection mean

for the Essex Region?

Protecting Your Drinking Water

  • 2015 – Source Protection Plan Approved

    The Essex Region Source Protection Assessment Report is a compilation of studies looking at each watershed’s physical characteristics, water quality and quantity and land use. This report identifies vulnerable areas where certain activities that could pose a threat to drinking water sources.

    2015 – Assessment Report Approved

    The Clean Water Act stipulated that a local multi-stakeholder Source Protection Committee oversee the source protection program in each region. Municipalities, industry, small business, environmental interests, agriculture and the public are represented on the Essex Region Source Protection Committee. The Committee is supported by the Conservation Authority’s Board of Directors, which under the Clean Water Act, is referred to as the “Source Protection Authority.” The Committee was established in 2007 and continues to oversee our local program.

    2007 – Source Protection Committee Established

    The Ontario Government responded to the Walkerton Inquiry recommendations by strengthening existing legislation and introducing new legislation where needed. The Clean Water Act was enacted and the Source Water Protection program began. The focus of the Clean Water Act is the protection of rivers, lakes and groundwater that supply municipal drinking water systems (the large systems that serve villages, towns and cities). Source Water Protection planning was undertaken in 19 source protection regions across Ontario, including the Essex Region.

    October 2006 - Clean Water Act

    In May 2000, the Walkerton tragedy occurred as a result of E. coli contamination of the groundwater supplying a municipal drinking water well. Seven people died and thousands more became ill from drinking the contaminated water, many of whom have been left with life-changing chronic conditions. Justice Dennis O’Connor led a public inquiry and made numerous recommendations to better protect Ontario’s drinking water in the future. A key conclusion was the need to have multiple layers of protection in place, a concept commonly referred to as the multi-barrier approach. The first barrier is protecting the drinking water at the source or “Source Water Protection.”

    May 2000 - The Walkerton Tragedy

    The Essex Region Source Protection Plan contains policies to protect local drinking water sources. The policies were developed by the Essex Region Source Protection based on the science included in the Assessment Report. Mandatory policies apply to certain activities in the identified vulnerable areas. The Essex Region Source Protection Plan came into effect on October 1, 2015.  The Plan and Assessment Report will be updated as required under the Clean Water Act or as new information becomes available.

    A drinking water tower
  • The Source Water Protection Information Atlas is compiled by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) to display data from Ontario's Conservation Authorities and Ontario Parcel data from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).

    Source Protection Information Atlas

    Please use our interactive mapping tool to determine whether your property is in a vulnerable area and what policies may apply.

    Is my Property in a Vulerable Area?

    The Event Based Area is an area where modeling has demonstrated that a spill from a specific activity could contaminate sources of drinking water. In the Essex Region, the EBA is the combination of IPZ-1, IPZ-2 and IPZ-3 for modeled activities (i.e. fuel spills).  The EBA covers an extensive area where mandatory polices related to the handling and storage of large volumes of liquid fuel apply.

    Event Based Area

    Vulnerable Areas are areas where certain types of activities may pose a threat to drinking water quality or quantity.  The vulnerability of these areas is a measure of how easily contaminants may reach a surface water intake, or penetrate the ground to reach the aquifer supplying a well.  In the Essex Region, our drinking water comes from surface water intakes and the Vulnerability Areas are called Intake Protection Zones (IPZs) and Event Based Areas (EBAs).  Mandatory policies to protect drinking from certain threats apply in these areas.  We have also identified Highly Vulnerable Aquifers (HVAs) and Significant Groundwater Recharge Areas (SGRAs) that identify areas where groundwater would be susceptible to contamination, however, there are no mandatory policies that apply to these areas because groundwater is not used to supply municipal water treatment plants. Intake Protection Zones are areas of land and water where run-off from streams or drainage systems could carry contaminants that could impact the source water at the municipal drinking water intakes. Mandatory policies apply in Windsor’s IPZ-1 and IPZ-2 as well as the Belle River’s IPZ-1 and Amherstburg’s IPZ-1.  

    • IPZ-1 – these are the areas closest to an intake where a spill would pose the greatest threat to sources of drinking water. The IPZ-1 is a 1km circle or semi-circle around the intake. Where the IPZ-1 abuts land, it includes a minimum setback of 120 m inland.

    • IPZ-2 – these areas are just beyond the IPZ-1. The limits of this zone reflect the response time for the water treatment plant operator to respond to an emergency.  In the Essex Region, these are areas where water (and contaminants) could reach the intake within 2 hours.

    • IPZ-3 – these areas extend outward from the IPZ-2 and include setbacks from all streams or drainage systems where modeling demonstrates that contaminant spills may reach the intake during an extreme rainfall or wind storm event. In the Essex Region, IPZ-3s include a 120m setback around all of our waterways, as well as some lands along the Detroit River shorelines and floodplain areas.

    Protection Zone map
  • Road signs have been installed across the Essex Region Source Protection Area as part of a provincial awareness initiative about protecting drinking water sources. Over 750 signs are installed across the province to identify Drinking Water Protection Zones.These signs identify sections of road where accidental spills could contaminate our sources of drinking water.  As part of the Essex Region Source Protection Plan implementation, emergency responders have been notified about these zones so that public water sources can be protected in the event of a spill. The use of a standardized sign throughout Ontario will help to raise public awareness about the importance of protecting our local drinking water sources. The main risk to drinking water in our local area has been identified as fuel, and if a spill is identified, residents should contact the Spills Action Center at 1-800-268-6060.  

    drinking water protection zone sign

A Risk Management Plan is a legally binding document that outlines any measures that may need to be taken by the landowner to help reduce the risk that a certain activity could contaminate municipal drinking water. If a Risk Management Plan is required, the RMO/I will provide a template and will work with you to create a plan that is appropriate for your property. 

  • The plan focuses on prevention — it allows activities that are important to residents and business owners to carry on within vulnerable drinking water areas while at the same time ensuring the municipal drinking water source is protected. 

  • The plan is site-specific – it is customized to suit the nature of the property, activity or business and can address multiple activities if necessary. 

  • The plan includes and accounts for measures that are already in place – some people will only need to document what they are already doing to protect drinking water. 

Risk Management Plans are being developed for both pre-existing significant drinking water threats and any new threats.  If you have a pre-existing threat, the RMO/I will be in contact with you directly. The RMO/I works closely with municipal Planning and Building staff to identify new threats before they are in place.  If you will be building or installing something that might be a drinking water threat, you will be asked to fill out S.59 (Restricted Land Use) application. 

Risk Management Services

ERCA brochures



SPC Committee Members

Source Protection Committee

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