Source Water Protection

Drinking water source protection is the first step in a multi-barrier approach to protecting our sources of drinking water such as lakes, rivers and groundwater before they become contaminated or depleted. Water is critical to all aspects of our lives. Protecting water sources is important as it can help ensure there is enough safe water, now and in the future. 

How we protect our drinking water sources

As a result of the Clean Water Act, communities in Ontario were required to develop source protection plans to protect their municipal sources of drinking water. These plans identified the risks to local drinking water sources and developed strategies to reduce or eliminate those risks.

To learn more about Source protection planning and the technical studies involved please visit:

What is source water protection?
Source water protection is simply protecting water resources such as lakes, rivers and groundwater, from contamination or overuse.

Water is critical to all aspects of our lives. Protecting the sources of our water is important to ensure that there is enough safe water for all our uses - now and in the future.

What are some water sources?
Our water comes from two major sources: surface water and groundwater. Surface water includes lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. Groundwater includes underground aquifers.

Groundwater and surface water are interconnected, flowing from one to the other.

Why is it important to protect sources of drinking water?
We need to protect the sources of our water in order to safeguard the public health of our residents and ensure there is enough water for all.

Over two million residents in Ontario get their water directly from surface or groundwater sources and do not have access to treatment systems.

Treating water for drinking is very costly. As a result, conventional water treatment methods cannot always remove many hazardous chemicals.

Don’t we have an unlimited supply of fresh water in Canada?
We do not have an infinite supply of water on our planet. Most of the water we use is recycled through the natural water cycle. It falls to earth as precipitation, is absorbed by plants and soil and then evaporates back into the atmosphere where the cycle begins again. Some of the water we use is thousands of years old.

Our supply of groundwater can be depleted if water is taken out of the ground more quickly than it can become naturally recharged.

What is the best way to protect source water?
We protect sources of water by managing the human and natural influences on them. We need to prevent contaminating or overusing our water resources.

Water flows within watersheds; therefore it is best to manage our water resources on a watershed basis.

As water flows across the watershed, it crosses forests, farmlands, towns and cities. Along the way it is affected by different activities.

The fewer negative impacts on our sources of water throughout the watershed the better the chance that the water coming out of our taps will be healthy. Protecting our sources of drinking water is absolutely essential to our health.

How do we make sure our drinking water is safe now?
A number of actions are taken to prevent our water from becoming contaminated ensuring that it is safe and clean from source to tap.

These include protecting sources of water by monitoring and managing our lakes, rivers and streams, using up to date water treatment systems, ensuring that the pipes, watermains and storage towers are in good repair, water testing and training water managers.

How are our sources of water threatened?
Both the quality of our water and the amount available can be threatened by different activities. Some of the threats to our water include:

  • Natural contaminants
  • Irresponsible land use activities which contaminate our water or take too much out.
  • Urban development can make it difficult for water to filter into the ground in order to replenish groundwater sources. When this happens, water just flows across the surface of land rather than percolating down to aquifers.
  • Air pollution from vehicles, coal plants, industries and other sources fall directly on surface waters or enter water sources through surface runoff.
  • As a result of climate change, there is also concern that the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere will reduce the amount of water available in lakes, rivers and streams due to reduced precipitation and increased evaporation.

How can we best protect sources of water?
Lakes, rivers, streams and other sources of water are best protected with proper planning involving a variety of water users.

A source water protection plan is a management strategy designed to minimize the impact that human and natural activities have on the quality and supply of our water resources.

Source protection plans include physical information about our watersheds, identify sensitive areas where water resource supply and/or quality is threatened, provide scientific data about the quality and supply of current water resources, and include up to date mapping, computer projections about future water resources and recommendations to manage the impacts of harmful activities.

Does source water protection take place today?
Working closely with the province, municipalities, landowners and other local groups, Conservation Authorities already plan and deliver watershed management programs and services for many watersheds in Ontario. This work needs to expand.

Conservation Authorities collect data, carry out studies, map our resources and monitor the state of our watersheds daily.

Conservation Authorities believe in the importance of involving the people living in watersheds in making decisions about the best way to ensure there are healthy and sustainable resources now and in the future.

How does the Clean Water Act fit into source water protection?
The Clean Water Act, 2006, is part of the Ontario government’s commitment to ensure the sustainability of clean, safe drinking water for all Ontarians and to implement the Walkerton Inquiry recommendations.

Protecting water at the source is the first step to a multi-barrier approach and an important part of ensuring the health of people, ecosystems and economies. Provincial laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act are in place to regulate other key elements of the multi-barrier approach including effective water treatment, adequate testing, rigorous monitoring, operator training, permits to take water and to regulate industrial pollution.

The Clean Water Act, 2006, which passed into law in October 2006, completes the multi-barrier approach to ensuring safe drinking water from ‘source to tap’.

The Clean Water Act, 2006 applies primarily to municipal supplies of drinking water. Maintaining safe and secure private drinking water systems, such as private wells, is the responsibility of homeowners, institutions and businesses who own their own water systems. These are regulated separately under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act, and the Health Protection and Promotion Act.

A wellhead protection area (WHPA) is the area of land around the wellhead where land use activities have the potential to significantly affect the quality of water flowing into a well.

In the City, wellhead protection areas are found in:

  • Carlisle
  • ​Freelton
  • Greensville
  • Lynden 

Learn more about wellhead protection areas and if your property lies within one.

The Clean Water Act defines a drinking water threat as, “an activity or condition that adversely affects or has the potential to adversely affect the quality or quantity of any water that is or may be used as a source of drinking water”

The following activities have been prescribed as threats by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), when occurring in vulnerable areas surrounding municipal wells:

  • The establishment, operation or maintenance of a waste disposal site within the meaning of Part V of the Environmental Protection Act
  • The establishment, operation or maintenance of a system that collects, stores, transmits, treats or disposes of sewage
  • Application, handling and storage of agricultural source material (ASM)
  • The application, handling and storage of non-agricultural source material (NASM)
  • Application, handling and storage of fertilizer
  • Application, handling and storage of pesticide
  • Application, handling and storage of road salt
  • Storage of snow
  • Handling and storage of fuel
  • Handling and storage of dense non-aqueous phase liquids (DNAPL)
  • Handling and storage of organic solvents

  • Runoff management: chemicals to de-ice aircraft
  • Activity that takes from, but does not return water to the same aquifer or surface water body
  • Activity that reduces the recharge of an aquifer
  • Use of land as livestock for grazing, pasturing, outdoor confinement or farm animal

View the detailed list of drinking water threats from the MOECC.

An abandoned well that is not properly filled, sealed and capped poses risks such as a safety hazard for children and animals and it provides a route for contaminants to enter groundwater reserves. Proper well decommissioning protects ground water resources through the “plugging and sealing” of unused wells. Protect yourself, your family and neighbours by properly decommissioning your well.

Residents may be eligible to receive 100% financial assistance to decommission a well up to a maximum of $1,000 per well, with a limit of two wells per property.

This project is being conducted in partnership with the City and other conservation authorities, for more information please contact:

Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority
Phone: 905-788-3135
www.npca.ca

Conservation Halton
Phone: 905-336-1158 Extension 2263
www.conservationhalton.ca/stewardship

Hamilton Conservation Authority
Phone: 905-525-2181 Extension 181
www.hamiltonhaltonstewardship.ca

Grand River Conservation Authority
519-621-2763 Extension 2278
www.grandriver.ca

The Clean Water Act identifies on-site sewage systems as one of the 21 potential significant threats to drinking water. The Ontario Building Code was amended in response. It requires inspection programs to identify systems that are not being maintained properly and therefore pose a public health threat.

All properties with on-site sewage systems located within high vulnerable municipal Well Head Protection Areas (WHPAs) have a greater chance of affecting the municipal water supply well, if they are not functioning properly.

If your on-site sewage system is in this high vulnerable area, this inspection is mandatory under the Ontario Building Code and the Source Protection Plan with a frequency of five years. Inspection guide (PDF, 159 KB)

Caring for your septic system​
Septic Smart - learn how your septic system works
Septic system fact sheet (PDF, 565 KB)

How you can protect our drinking water

Farming practices, household hazardous materials and fuels; snow and road salt use; and over consumption all affect our drinking water. Changes to current processes and habits can help protect our drinking water. All of us - individuals, government, business and industry - have a responsibility to keep our water free from contamination and to protect our drinking water for ourselves and for future generations.

Farming operations can have an impact on both surface water sources and groundwater. Fertilizers, pesticides, manure and nutrients can be washed into surface water bodies or leach into groundwater posing a risk to our drinking water sources.

OMAFRA - Source Protection Plans on the Farm
Pesticides (home lawns and gardens)
Using Pesticides in Ontario
Get the Facts about Fertilizer (PDF, 660 KB)

What are the potential causes of contamination?

Application, handling, and storage of Agricultural Source Material (i.e. manure produced by farm animals, runoff from farm yards and manure storages, or wash water from milking centre waste, or compost, or source materials produced from the cultivation of fish or other aquatic organisms in a controlled environment)

  • Application and storage of Non-Agricultural Source Material (i.e. sewage bio-solids and other wastes such as pulp and paper biosolids)
  • Livestock grazing, pasturing and outdoor confinement areas
  • Application and storage of commercial fertilizers
  • Application and storage of pesticides

What can I do to protect our source water?

Ontario farmers have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to farm practices that help maintain or improve sources of drinking water, through the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) established in Environmental Farm Plans and Nutrient Management Planning.

  • Plant vegetation along watercourses to prevent erosion and runoff
  • Conduct regular soil testing to determine nutrient requirements
  • Maintain setbacks from watercourses when applying nutrients or pesticides
  • Maintain private water well(s) and decommission unused wells.
  • Dispose household hazardous waste through the City of Hamilton’s community recycling program.

How does source water protection apply?

Under the Clean Water Act, 2006, additional protection of our drinking water sources from potential contamination is provided through the mandatory implementation of approved Source Protection Plans. These Plans contain policies which regulate several activities, including certain farming activities.

Farms that are close to municipal wells or in other highly vulnerable areas need special attention. Source Protection Plan policies manage agricultural activities within these vulnerable areas in the following ways:

Nutrient Management Strategies/Plans

You may need to review and update your current approvals, such as a Nutrient Management Plan or Strategy, under the Nutrient Management Act.

Risk management plans

A risk management plan is a legally-binding negotiated agreement between the City of Hamilton’s Risk Management Official and the person (landowner/tenant/farmer) engaged in the activity. It is based on the principles of the Nutrient Management Act and includes best management practices to manage the risks associated with certain farming activities.

Note: Farming practices within these vulnerable areas are not automatically subject to Source Protection Plans.

Some common household chemicals and fuels can pose a risk to our drinking water sources if they are not properly stored, used, and disposed. A minor spill or leak of these hazardous compounds can contaminate large volumes of groundwater and surface water.

What are the different types of hazardous materials?

  • Organic Solvents
    Typically found in paints, adhesives, degreasers, cleaning products (used to dissolve substances such as oils, paint thinners, and glue solvents)
  • Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquids (DNAPLs - pronounced dee-napples)
    Toxic chemicals typically found in paint removers, degreasers, and cleaning products.
  • Fuels
    Diesel, gasoline, home heating fuel, and lubricating oils including used oils.
     

Did you know? Household hazardous waste is not picked up at the curb and should be taken to a community recycling centre.

What can I do to protect our source water?

For household hazardous chemicals:

  • Consider purchasing eco-friendly alternatives to hazardous chemicals.
  • Purchase only the amount of chemicals you need, and try to use up the entire container to avoid generating unnecessary waste.
  • Avoid transferring chemicals from one container to another container.
  • Dispose of fuels, chemicals, or other hazardous wastes at the City of Hamilton’s Community Recycling Centres free of charge (visit www.hamilton.ca for a list of accepted waste types).
  • Never pour chemicals or hazardous waste down the drain or into storm sewers

For your home heating fuels and other fuel storage tanks:

  • Check your storage tanks regularly for signs of corrosion, staining under the tank, and strong smells of fuel or other chemicals.

What should I do in the event of a spill or leak?

  • Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • If it can be done safely, contain the spill using materials such as buckets, rags, kitty litter or other
  • Dial 1-800-268-6060 to reach MOECC Spills Action Centre. Remember to report any spill, no matter how small

How does source water protection apply?

Under the Clean Water Act, 2006, additional protection of our drinking water sources from potential contamination is provided through the mandatory implementation of approved Source Protection Plans. These Plans contain policies which regulate several activities, including the storage, use, and disposal of hazardous chemicals.

In protecting drinking water sources, the handling and storage of hazardous chemicals and waste near municipal groundwater well systems, municipal surface water treatment plants or in other vulnerable areas requires special attention.

Source Protection Plan policies manage these activities within these vulnerable areas in the following ways:

Activity Prohibition

The handling and storage of some hazardous chemicals and waste may be prohibited in close proximity to municipal wells.

Risk Management Plans

A risk management plan is a legally-binding negotiated agreement between the City of Hamilton’s Risk Management Official and the person (landowner/tenant/contractor) engaged in the activity. It is based on best practices to manage the risks associated with the handling and storage of hazardous chemicals and waste.

Note: The handling and storage of hazardous chemicals and fuels within these vulnerable areas are not automatically subject to Source Protection Plans.

Salt and snow plowing helps keep our roads, parking lots, walkways, and driveways safe, but may also potentially impact the quality of our groundwater and surface water sources. Runoff from rain and melt water that comes into contact with salt and plowed snow may contain chemicals that can drain into drinking water sources.

What can I do to protect our source water?

Stop snow and ice from accumulating by shoveling and sweeping as soon as possible after or during a snowfall.

  • Shovel or plow your snow instead of applying road salt.
  • Avoid storing snow in areas where melt-water drains across paved surfaces towards catch basins or ditches.
  • Move drainage discharges from downspouts away from walkways or driveways
  • Pile snow so that it will not run across paved surfaces when it melts. Snow may melt during the day and freeze on the pavement at night requiring more salt.
  • Consider using alternative de-icer materials that contain less sodium and chloride. Use only what you need to melt the snow or ice on your driveway or sidewalk and do not over salt.
  • Apply abrasives such as sand during colder temperatures to improve traction.
  • Sweep up loose salt, sand and de-icer to stop it from being washed into water sources when a melt occurs. Return salt to your salt storage. It is still useful and effective for melting ice.
  • For bulk storage of salt on site, such as malls and parking lots, store salt on waterproof pads with a cover – preferably with a permanent roof. Store liquid de-icing chemicals on waterproof pads in tanks protected by cement posts/walls.
  • If you hire a contractor for winter maintenance, ensure they are Smart About Salt certified

Did You Know? Salt is best used between 0° and -12° C. Below -18° C salt does not work.


How does source water protection apply?

Under the Clean Water Act, 2006, additional protection of these drinking water sources from potential contamination is provided through the mandatory implementation of approved Source Protection Plans. These Plans contain policies which regulate several activities, including the handling, storage, and application of road salt and the storage of snow.

In protecting drinking water sources, the use of salt and plowed snow storage near municipal groundwater well systems, municipal surface water treatment plants or in other vulnerable areas requires special attention.

Source Protection Plan policies manage these activities within these vulnerable areas in several ways:

Land Use Planning
New parking lots and roads may be required to incorporate design measures to optimize road salt application and promote environmentally responsible snow and salt storage.

New salt storage or snow storage facilities may be prohibited within a wellhead protection area.

Risk Management Plans
A risk management plan is a legally-binding negotiated agreement between the City of Hamilton’s Risk Management Official and the person (landowner/tenant/contractor) engaged in the activity. It is based on best management practices to manage the risks associated with winter maintenance activities.

Note: Winter maintenance activities that occur within these vulnerable areas are not automatically subject to Source Protection Plans.

Water conservation is an important aspect of source water protection. Learn more about water conservation and what changes you can make regarding:

  • Indoor water use
  • Outdoor water use
  • Locating and fixing water leaks

Risk management office - drinking water source protection

The risk management office was established to assist in the enforcement of the Clean Water Act for the City. It is comprised of a risk management official (RMO) who will be assisted by risk management inspectors (RMIs), all of who are trained to standards set by provincial regulation.

The responsibilities of the RMO and RMIs include; issuing Section 59 notices, establishing guidance documents for risk assessments, preparing risk management plans (RMP) for prescribed activities, developing templates and forms for RMPs, developing information packages or sessions for property owners, negotiating and establishing RMPs with property owners, approving RMPs, monitoring implementation and performance of the RMPs, and reporting to the source protection authority.

The RMO and RMIs will also work closely with property owners, municipal staff, local conservation authorities and agencies such as the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH).

A risk management plan (RMP) regulates activities that pose a significant drinking water threat to municipal drinking water sources. The RMP includes best management practices designed to ensure that risks to the municipal drinking water source are reduced or eliminated. The plan is generally negotiated between the person doing the activity and a risk management official.

For example, if fuel stored at a service station is a significant threat to drinking water, a risk management official would work with the gas station owner to develop a risk management plan to reduce the chance of spills from an underground tank.

The RMP may be simple and straightforward in cases where best management practices are already in place. The plans can be amended as activities and operations change over time.

For more information
Risk Management Office
Source Protection Planning - Hamilton Water
Suite 400 – 77 James Street North (City Centre)
Hamilton, ON, L8R 2K3

Email: Sourcewater@hamilton.ca
Phone: (905) 546-2424 x 4018

Under Section 47 of the Clean Water Act, it is the responsibility of the City to administer, implement and enforce Part IV of the Clean Water Act within its boundary. There are three main tools by which the City will enforce Part IV of the act in order to address activities considered significant drinking water threats (SDWT) within its boundaries:

  • Section 57 – Prohibition of an activity that is a SDWT
  • Section 58 – Establishment of risk management plans to manage the risk of an existing or future threat.
  • Section 59 – Screening of new development applications within vulnerable areas where SDWT are possible.

The Hamilton-Halton source protection plan was approved by the MOECC on August 5, 2015. The plan took effect on December 31, 2015.

The Grand River source protection plan (Lynden) was approved by the MOECC on November 26, 2015. The plan will take effect on July 1, 2016.

Who is affected by the source protection plan policies

If your property is in a vulnerable area and you are carrying out activities that are a threat to drinking water sources, then you are subject to the source protection plan policies. Vulnerable areas in Hamilton where these policies currently apply are wellhead protection areas & intake protection zones.

Use the links below to search for your property, review source protection plan maps and review the full list of drinking water threats.

New source protection plan policies can affect future development if you live wholly or partially within a wellhead protection area (WHPA) in the City of Hamilton. The Section 59 written notice is now a requirement for anyone who is submitting a planning or building permit application within the WHPA.

If your property lies within a  wellhead protection area (PDF, 13 MB) in Hamilton, building and planning services will not accept your application without a Section 59 notice.

The restricted land use application must be filled out and submitted to the risk management office for review prior to the submission for a building permit or planning act applications. The information on this application form will help the risk management office determine if a development or building application is subject to Part IV policies under the Hamilton-Halton source protection plan and the Grand River source protection plan.

Any applications determined to require a risk management plan will require further consultation with the risk management official.

This form can be submitted:
By mail
Risk Management Office
Source Protection Planning - Hamilton Water
Suite 400 – 77 James Street North (City Centre)
Hamilton, ON, L8R 2K3

By email
Sourcewater@hamilton.ca

In person
City Hall, 71 Main Street West, Hamilton
3rd Floor (Building Division) or 5th Floor (Planning Department)

Contact us

Risk Management Office
Source Protection Planning
Email: Sourcewater@hamilton.ca
Phone: 905-546-2424 Ext. 4018