Frequently Asked Questions

Listed below are some frequently asked questions. Please click a question or scroll down the page to view the answers.

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.
  • In the Essex Region, all of our municipal drinking water is surface water from the Detroit River, Lake Erie or Lake St. Clair. Some rural areas are not serviced by municipal water systems and instead use private wells as a source of water
  • Groundwater and surface water are interconnected, flowing from one to the other.
  • Why is it important to protect sources of drinking water if we can just treat the water before it gets to our taps?

  • 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. The less contamination or overuse of our water resources, the more we will have now and in the future.
  • 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.
  • What is a watershed?

  • A watershed is an area of land that is drained by a river, creek or other body of water
  • What watersheds are part of the Essex Region?

  • The Essex Region is characterized by more than 23 sub-watersheds that flow into three main bodies of water - Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River watershed.
  • How do we make sure our drinking water is safe now?

  • A number of actions are taken to prevent our water from becoming contaminated plus to ensure that it is safe and clean from source to tap.
  • These include protecting sources of water (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 well trained 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.
  • What is a source protection plan?

  • A source 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.
  • A Source Protection Plan will become an agreement about the ways to protect water quality and quantity. ERCA will be working with the Source Protection Committee, our municipal partners and the community to develop the Source Protection Plan for our local watersheds. A successful Source Protection Plan (SPP)
    • Meet the needs of individual watersheds
    • Bring together all key partners
    • Include the technical data required to make informed decisions
    • Have political support from all levels of government
    • Be available to residents within the watersheds
    • Be adequately funded to further development and ongoing needs
  • 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.
  • How will the source protection plan be developed?

  • Development of Source Protection Plans is expected to take place over several years, with significant involvement from municipalities, stakeholders and the community. The first step will be identifying water protection issues, assessing risks to drinking water, ranking these risks and setting priorities. Next, risk reduction objectives will be set, and options evaluated. From this information the Plan will be made. Implementation and monitoring will be the final and ongoing steps.
  • The Source Protection Committee will develop a Source Protection Plan by involving all watershed residents, working with municipalities, conservation authorities, farmers, landowners, businesses, industry and others.
  • What is an issues inventory?

  • An important task of the source protection planning process is to identify where water quality and quantity issues already exist. These issues show up in the monitoring data done at municipal wells and water intakes. In many cases, these issues are already known and steps may already be underway to deal with them. There are a variety of problems in different communities such as:
    • Municipal wells contaminated by chemicals
    • High ammonia levels in surface water
    • High nitrate levels in groundwater
    • Rising chloride levels in groundwater
  • The Source Protection Plan will identify steps necessary to deal with these issues, which in the Essex Region, are primarily related to surface water. In cases where an issue poses a significant threat to municipal water supplies, the Clean Water Act provides for action to be taken when the issue is identified, before the plan has been completed.
  • What is a threats inventory?

  • Another important task is to identify and inventory threats to drinking water sources within vulnerable areas, through an evaluation of land uses such as those that may involve the use of chemicals which may have the potential to cause serious contamination. A variety of local, provincial and national information sources will be used to gather this data. Potential threats are many and varied. They occur in both urban and rural areas. Some examples could be:
    • Spills and leaks from industrial or commercial operations
    • Brownfield sites and abandoned factories
    • Abandoned landfills
    • Faulty septic systems
    • Fertilizers, pesticides and animal manure

    How will the Source Protection Plan address issues of water quantity?

  • Source protection also means ensuring there is enough water available to meet current and future needs. Protecting groundwater supplies can involve protecting the surface water features where water seeps into the ground to recharge aquifers. Protecting surface water supplies like lakes, rivers and creeks, can mean protecting surface features such as wetlands that help to keep the rivers flowing. Some of the questions that will need to be addressed as part of the plan are:
    • How do we ensure that enough water continues to enter the ground to recharge the aquifers that supply our wells?
    • What steps do we take to keep rivers and streams flowing?
    • How do we ensure that our water use is sustainable?

    What are 'vulnerable areas'?

  • Communities like the Essex Region that relies on surface water from the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair or Lake Erie, must identify protection zones for the water intakes. An Intake Protection Zone is the area where a spill or leak may threaten the water supply so quickly that there may not be enough time to warn a community to shut its water intake. The lines that surround the intake show the area where water can reach the intake in less than two or three hours (typically a few kilometres upstream) For a river intake, the researchers have to take into account river flows - in both high and low flow conditions - since this can have a significant effect on time of travel. They have to look at streams feeding into the river. They also have to know where municipal storm sewers or rural drains enter the river. The land surrounding the river, streams, sewers and drains becomes part of the intake protection zone. In the case of an intake on a Great Lake, a one-kilometre zone is established around the intake which, in some cases, may include shore areas. In addition, a second zone is created that includes streams and rivers that can have an impact on the intake.
  • There are also 'vulnerable aquifer area' - such as areas with sandy soil where there is a greater potential for contamination of groundwater due to activities on the surface.