Canada NewsWire  [Printer-friendly version]
August 21, 2006


[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 - -- a grassroots water protection web site operated
by Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law

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

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

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.


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)

Copyright 2005 CNW Group Ltd.