Canada NewsWire [Printer-friendly version] August 21, 2006 NEW WATER LAW CRITICAL FOR HEALTHY ONTARIO [Rachel's introduction: Citizens' and environmental groups want Canada's proposed water law bill strengthened by the addition of the precautionary principle and the "meaningful involvement" of indigenous people in decisions.] TORONTO -- The Ontario government's proposed Clean Water Act is essential for the long-term health of our communities and our environment, according to 16 citizens' and environmental groups who released a joint statement this morning at the start of legislative committee hearings on the Act. The Act lays out a formal process for identifying threats to the sources of our drinking water, and establishes local committees to address those threats. It also provides municipalities with much- needed tools to better protect their waters. Potential threats the Act will help address include bacterial contamination from human or animal waste, industrial pollution, urban runoff and water depletion from overuse. "Protecting our sources of drinking water is pure common sense," said Dr. Rick Smith, Executive Director, Environmental Defence. "This Act is a big step forward for water protection in Ontario, and it should be as strong as possible." "This Act makes drinking water source protection a top priority in local and regional planning decisions," said Jessica Ginsburg, Counsel at the Canadian Environmental Law Association. "Its innate flexibility will allow communities to identify their true priorities and design solutions which are workable and effective." In 2004, a coalition of citizens' and environmental groups endorsed the Ontario Source Water Protection Statement of Expectations, which laid out an initial set of recommendations for the province's source water protection legislation. According to the statement released this morning, the Clean Water Act will help the province live up to 12 of those 16 recommendations. The Act also supports the implementation of 22 of Justice O'Connor's recommendations from the Walkerton Inquiry. "I am optimistic that this Act will help improve the safety of our drinking water and hopefully avoid another tragedy like the one at Walkerton," said Bruce Davidson, Concerned Walkerton Citizens. "The government has clearly heard our concerns and taken our recommendations seriously." Standing Committee hearings are being held this week in communities across the province to allow the public to comment on the proposed law. Today's groups will participate in those hearings with ideas on how the Clean Water Act could be made even stronger, including: ** Adoption of the precautionary principle. ** Meaningful involvement of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples. ** Extensive and ongoing public participation and education. ** Sustainable funding for the program's implementation. ** Equal source water protection for central and northern Ontario and for private water systems. ** Incorporation of strong conservation measures. ** Strong commitments to Great Lakes protections and integration with Great Lakes agreements. The Statement of Expectations, along with information about the schedule of hearings, is available online at The WaterHole - www.TheWaterHole.ca -- a grassroots water protection web site operated by Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association. Joint Statement We, the undersigned environmental and citizens' groups, believe the proposed Clean Water Act is essential for the long-term health of our communities and our environment. The following are our recommendations on how the Act should be made even stronger, to ensure the best possible protection for our sources of drinking water. 1. Adoption of the precautionary principle. Despite numerous recommendations advocating the inclusion of the precautionary principle, there is not a single reference to precaution in the proposed Act. The precautionary principle should be inserted in the purpose statement as a guiding principle. It should also be included in the administration of the Act, for example, as an operationalized component of the source protection plans. 2. Meaningful involvement of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples. We strongly believe that First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples and their governments have a critical role to play in the source water protection framework. In its current form, the Act does not include provisions related to drinking water systems on reserves, nor does it in any way include First Nations peoples in the source protection process. We continue to stress that the federal and provincial governments should support the ability of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples to be full participants in source protection planning and implementation, in addition to allocating appropriate resources to facilitate meaningful involvement. 3. Extensive and ongoing public participation and education. Planning and implementation of each source protection plan will occur mostly at the local level, through measures carried out by individual landowners, industries, and businesses. It is critical that we build public support through education and outreach programs as well as through public engagement in the planning and implementation process. Public education must include easy access to information in order to identify threats to source waters and participate in risk management responses. At a minimum, meaningful engagement requires the public's involvement on source protection committees, financial support for participation outside of the committees, and the opportunity to comment on proposed terms of reference, assessment reports, and source protection plans before these documents are finalized. 4. Sustainable funding for the program's implementation. It is essential that there be a sustainable and reliable approach to securing funds for the implementation of source protection plans. The province should consider all of the funding mechanisms identified in the Implementation Committee's report, including water taking charges, water rates, pollution charges, incentive programs, general revenues, and stewardship approaches. Furthermore, the funding system should allow for the equitable reallocation of funds and reaffirm the principle that water is a public resource. 5. Equal source water protection for central and northern Ontario and for private water systems. The Act does not yet achieve sufficient protection for all of Ontario's source waters, as Justice O'Connor recommended in Part II of his report. In its current form, the Act is weighted towards protection of municipal drinking water systems in southern Ontario. We strongly recommend that the right to source water protection be extended to people who rely on private water systems and water systems in central and northern Ontario. 6. Incorporation of strong conservation measures and water quantity protection. It is important that this Act work effectively to protect both water quality and quantity. To that end, it should promote the adoption of water conservation measures and prevent the depletion of our water resources. For example, groundwater aquifers could be better preserved by setting clear guidelines limiting the spread of impervious surfaces in key recharge areas. Also, when preparing water budgets for the assessment reports, source protection committees should take into account water conservation plans as a means of avoiding water shortages. 7. Strong commitments to the Great Lakes and integration with Great Lakes agreements. Given the critical importance of the Great Lakes as a source of drinking water, it is essential that the province use this Act as a starting point for renewed leadership in Great Lakes protection. We believe that the Act should include strong commitments to protecting the Great Lakes. Furthermore, source protection measures should be effectively integrated with existing Great Lakes programs, data collection, and inter-jurisdictional agreements, including the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the Annex 2001 agreements. Signed, == Environmental Defence Canadian Environmental Law Association Concerned Walkerton Citizens Canadian Federation of University Women/Ontario Council Georgian Bay Association Waterfront Regeneration Trust Sierra Legal Defence Fund Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods of Ontario Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy Federation of Ontario Cottagers' Associations Friends of the Earth Canada Riversides Stewardship Alliance Ontario Headwaters Institute Sierra Club of Canada, Ontario Chapter Citizens' Environmental Alliance Pollution Probe == For further information: or to arrange interviews, please contact: Jodi Frye, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 x 233; Jessica Ginsburg, Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association, (416) 960-2284 ext. 226; Bruce Davidson, Concerned Walkerton Citizens, (519) 881-0884 Copyright 2005 CNW Group Ltd.