Ontario Takes Steps to Protect Water

Ontario, Canada, will introduce legislation this spring that will protect water from the source to the tap, and charge bottlers and manufacturers for using the resource, according to Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky.

"We are preparing legislation that will protect our water from contamination before it enters our drinking-water system," she said yesterday at a news conference.

After the 2000 Walkerton tragedy, source protection was a key recommendation in Justice Dennis O'Connor's report into the matter. Seven people died and more than 2,300 became ill from drinking town water contaminated with a deadly form of E. coli and other bacteria.

"The second government initiative is the requirement of water-bottling companies and other permit holders to pay for the water they take," Dombrowsky said, adding that Ontario will be the first Canadian province to charge on a volume basis.

For example, a cost will be assessed to beverage manufacturing, water bottling, fruit or vegetable canning or pickling, ready-mix concrete manufacturing and aggregate processing where water is incorporated into a product.

The minister said it was too soon to say how much the province will charge for the water, and it's unclear whether other users, such as golf courses, will also have to pay, even though much of the water would find its way back into the aquifer. Farms will be exempt.

Dombrowsky also emphasized the province is going to strengthen the rules around water-taking permits and get a handle on how much water is being taken from aquifers, rivers and streams.

The province does not currently have a system in place to track how much water is being taken out daily, nor does it know whether the system is being damaged by the volume of water being extracted, she said.

Currently, there are 5,300 water permits in Ontario, allowing up to 580 billion liters of water to be taken daily from the ground, creeks and rivers. Most of that, 480 billion liters, is used for power production.

In December, Dombrowsky announced a one-year moratorium on issuing new water-taking permits, pending a review of the groundwater supplies.

A series of meetings will be held next month in eight cities, beginning in London on March 1 and ending in Toronto March 23, with regional and local experts and people directly concerned with protecting water.

Dombrowsky said much of the responsibility for protecting water sources would fall to the province's 36 conservation authorities, which had their budget cut by at least 70 percent by the former Conservative government.

The Toronto Star

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