Water: ours to protect

Source Protection Plan

The Ontario government passed the Clean Water Act in 2006 to help protect drinking water at the source as part of its multi-barrier strategy to safeguard human health and the environment. The Clean Water Act established a process for developing local, watershed-based Source Protection Plans (SPP). The SPP is intended to protect municipal wells and surface water intakes from specific activities that could pose a threat to our drinking water.

For more information on the Clean Water Act and the Source Protection Plan, visit Source Protection Plan web page

 Working together to protect our water

ROW Water Services source water protection

The Region of Waterloo has been protecting sources of drinking water since 1994. Our Water Resources Protection Master Plan details our approaches to keeping our water clean, including identifying the areas to protect, the activities to manage and the programs to deliver.

Help keep water clean. 

1) Properly store and dispose of chemicals, oils, and paints.

Improper storage and disposal can result in accidental spills or chemicals leaking into our groundwater.photo of household cleaning supplies in a containing stored on a shelf

  • Store securely closed materials in their original containers in a locked area away from children. For additional information visit the Government of Canada Healthy Canadians website.
  • Consider using green alternatives for cleaning.  
  • Properly dispose of unused materials. Certain Household Hazardous Wastes (HHW) can be dropped off at the Region of Waterloo landfill. Orange Drop, a provincial program, identifies drop off locations and HHW's accepted.  

2) Return unused and expired medications to your pharmacy.

Medicines poured down your sink or flushed down your toilet may end up in our water ways. Medicines thrown in the trash can be accidentally eaten by pets or wildlife and have the potential to leach out into the ground at the landfill.

Return unwanted medications to your local pharmacy. The Canada Health Products Stewardship Program website also includes drop off locations.

 3) In the winter, shovel first and save the salt for icy patches.photo of person shovelling the snow from their driveway

When snow melts or when it rains, the salt placed on roads, parking lots and sidewalks to keep us safe, washes into our waterways or travels underground. Over time, if we don't manage our salt use, salt levels will increase in the drinking water causing it to taste salty. 

  • Shovel sooner than later
  • Use salt wisely
  • Use salt alternatives
  • Prevent ice
  • Wear winter boots
  • Put snow tires on your car 

Learn more about salt management and the Curb The Salt campaign.

4) Help more rain soak into the ground. photo of rain barrel connect to downspout of home

When rain or snow melt flows over hard surfaces (roads, driveways, roofs...) and across land, the water can pick up oil, salt and other pollutants as it travels to our natural areas such as creeks, lakes and wetlands. This water eventually makes its way to the Grand River, a source for our drinking water. Instead, if this same water is allowed to soak directly into the ground it will stay cleaner while going directly back to recharge our aquifers. 

  • Increase areas where rain can soak into the ground.
  • Build a rain garden.
  • Plant native trees and bushes.
  • Use rain barrels to capture runoff from downspouts and redirect overflow to a permeable surface.

Stormwater management is the responsibility of the local municipality where you live.  Visit your local municipality for more information: City of Cambridge, City of Waterloo, City of Kitchener.

Information is also available through the RAIN program locally run by REEP Green Solutions.

5) Properly maintain private wells and/or septic systems. 

photo of private wellheadProperly constructed and maintained wells and septic systems prolong their life, protect your health and help keep groundwater clean.

Your family's health and the well-being of livestock depend on clean drinking water. Wells provide this water from groundwater aquifers. The earth's soil naturally protects aquifers from pollutants. When a well is drilled, an opening is made into the aquifer that if not managed can act as a path for surface contaminants to pollute the groundwater. When septic systems are not properly constructed and maintained the household waste they treat can end up polluting the groundwater and eventually the water in your well.

  • Make sure your well meets current standards. Inspect your well regularly and keep your well in good running order. For more information visit Well Aware.
  • Protect your well water at the ground surface. For more information visit Well Aware.
    • Store potential sources of contamination a safe distance from the well.
    • Limit use of potential contaminants including de-icers, hazardous materials and manure.
  • Maintain your septic system. Tips include conserving water and properly disposing of harmful chemicals.  For more information visit the Ontario Onsite Wastewater Association.
  • Regularly test your well water.  Sign up for "Test your Well" email reminders through the Region of Waterloo Public Health.
  • Properly plug and seal wells that are no longer used or maintained to remove the possibility of contaminants entering the groundwater aquifer.

Source Water Protection Programs

The Region of Waterloo Water Services supports many programs that protect our source water.

Monitoring of source water

We monitor the quality and quantity of our drinking water sources for many reasons, one of which is to have data we can use to develop our protection programs.  

We monitor the quality of water entering the distribution system and publish the results in annual reports. Region staff also measure the quantity of water removed from wells and the Grand River. The Groundwater Monitoring Report, produced every two years, summarizes the impact that water-taking has on the environment. Details are available upon request.

Rural Water Quality Program

Farmers understand the importance of a healthy environment for their crop and livestock production. However, some farming methods may impair water quality, for example over application of fertilizers can leach into the soil or run off into creeks and streams.

The Rural Water Quality Program is a voluntary program developed by the Region in 1998 to provide grants and technical assistance to farmers for projects such as tree-planting, new manure storage and nutrient management planning which will improve water quality. Visit the Grand River Conservation Authority, administrator of this program, for more information.

Smart About Salt

In 2010, the Region, as one of three founding members, formed the Smart About Salt Council which now runs the Smart About Salt program.  This not-for-profit organization offers certification and training for winter salt and risk management. For more information visit the Smart About Salt Council website.

Spills: prevention & response 

A spill can have devastating consequences, from clean-up costs and fines to wasted time and damaged assets. Spills near municipal supply wells can also affect drinking water quality. Businesses transporting, storing and handling hazardous materials such as motor oils, paints, fuels and other chemicals should have a spill prevention and response plan in place that includes employee training.

Reporting a spill

When a spill occurs it is important to take the following steps:

  1. Notify the Region of Waterloo at: 519-650-8260 (8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday) or 519-575-4400 (after hours and on weekends).
  2. Notify the Ministry of the Environment (MOE)- Spills Action Centre (SAC) at 1-800-268-6060
  3. Provide the following information:
    • Name of company or individual responsible
    • Location of the spill
    • Name and phone number of the person reporting the spill
    • Time of the spill
    • Type and quantity of material discharged and any associated hazards
    • Status, including corrective actions being taken to control the spill

Learn more about spills prevention and response.

General Information

Well Interference Complaints: If you suspect that your private water well is being adversely affected by regional water taking, please refer to the attached information.

Potable Groundwater Criteria Use: Policy regarding use of clean-up standards and guidelines for sites within the Region.

Urban Threats Inventory Database: This report gives information on urban land-use activities that have potential to affect the quality of surface and groundwater in the Region.

Regional Official Plan: Chapter eight of this Plan presents policies to protect municipal drinking water sources required as part of the approval of new developments under the Planning Act.