Source Water Protection

Protecting our sources of drinking water

Imagine a day without clean drinking water. Keeping it clean starts at the source. Source water is the raw water in rivers, streams or underground that eventually flows through our taps. In Waterloo Region, some of the drinking water starts at the Grand River but most is groundwater.

The Source Protection Plan (SPP) protects municipal wells and surface water intakes from specific activities that may pose a threat to drinking water. The Ontario government passed the Clean Water Act in 2006 to protect drinking water as a result of the Walkerton E. coli outbreak tragedy in May 2000. The Clean Water Act established a process for developing local, watershed-based Source Protection Plans. The Grand River Source Protection Plan includes the polices for the Region of Waterloo.

A number of policy tools are available to protect sources of drinking water under the Clean Water Act. The Region of Waterloo is responsible for reviewing development applications and building permits for source protection concerns, enforcing prohibitions in the most vulnerable areas for high risk activities, negotiating risk management plans to outline best practices to manage threats, and creating education and incentive programs.

Why protecting water matters

Imagine a day without clean drinking water. Protecting our sources of drinking water is a role we can all play. Visit the Region of Waterloo Protecting Water web page for tips on how you can help.

The Region of Waterloo is protecting our sources of drinking water by:

  • Monitoring water quality of drinking water sources
  • Working with businesses to improve best practices to protect water quality through Source Water Protection Plan policies
  • Supporting the Smart About Salt Council and other programs to reduce salt impacting groundwater
  • Increasing awareness about groundwater through water education programs and outreach campaigns

Building permits and planning approval applications

Every property that is in a vulnerable area must include a Notice of Source Protection Plan Compliance or Section 59 Notice with a building permit or planning approval application. The notice is a signed declaration that the activities on the property comply with Source Protection Plan policies. Building permits and planning approval applications for source protection areas are only granted after screening for potential threats to drinking water. Some permits and applications may be refused or may first require a Risk Management Plan.

Properties requiring the negotiation of a Risk Management Plan should first contact the Risk Management Official. This is to confirm whether a Risk Management Plan is required and to discuss next steps. The plan includes practices to help reduce the risk of the activity to our drinking water supplies.

To submit your application you must first find out if Source Protection Plan policies apply:

  1. Open the Threats and Policy System (TAPS) source water protection mapping tool
  2. Click on "I need a document to attach to a building permit or planning approval application"
  3. Enter the property location
  4. Answer the questions as prompted
  5. Follow instructions on how to proceed 

Watch the video: Applying for a Notice of Source Water Protection for instructions on using the Threats and Policy System (TAPS).

Negotiating Risk Management Plans

A Risk Management Plan is a legally binding agreement between you and the Region of Waterloo's Risk Management Official. It is a site-specific negotiated agreement identifying best management practices you will use to protect our community's water supply from activities occurring on your property.

If you need a Risk Management Plan you will either be:

  • contacted by the Risk Management Official if you are located in a source protection area and already doing one of the activities which requires a risk management plan. The property owner does not need to do anything until contacted by the Risk Management Official. There are many properties in the Region that require Risk Management Plans and it will take several years to reach every one.
  • through the building permit and planning approval application process. The Building Permits and Planning Approval Applications section on this page includes how to find out if Source Protection Plan policies apply and, if required, resources to negotiate a Risk Management Plan.

The Source Protection Plan: negotiating your Risk Management Plan fact sheet provides additional information.

Financial incentives

Changing practices can be difficult and expensive. Financial incentives are available through the Source Protection Plan to help offset the cost to implement source protection policies. The Risk Management Official will inform you of any available incentives while working with you on source protection policies that apply to your property.

Funding for private well owners

The Region of Waterloo also provides funding to support decommissioning and upgrading private wells to protect municipal sources of drinking water. Private well owners are responsible for keeping their wells in good working condition, and properly decommissioning wells that are no longer in use under Ontario Regulation 903. Decommissioning is the process of plugging and sealing the well to prevent bacteria and contaminants from entering groundwater and negatively affecting water quality in other drinking water wells. For more information or to determine eligibility for funding, please contact the Region of Waterloo Risk Management Official.

Other grant programs

Grants may also be available through other organizations including:

Resources to help you implement your Risk Management Plan

The Lake Erie Source Protection web site includes resources on source water protection. Information for specific sectors can be found under the tabs below.

Agriculture and farming

Chemical handling and storage

Residential properties: heating oil storage, private wells and septic systems

Heating oil storage

Private wells

Septic systems

Winter maintenance of parking lots

Legislative resources

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the 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 Source Protection Plan is intended to protect municipal wells and surface water intakes from specific activities that could pose a threat to our drinking water.

The potential threats addressed in Source Protection Plans include:

  • Application and/or storage of de-icing salt on paved, concrete, and gravel surfaces.
  • Storage of fuel, organic solvents, and other chemicals.
  • Handling or storage of waste including hazardous waste, PCBs, liquid industrial waste, etc. Note: this does not include household or office waste that is regularly picked up for disposal elsewhere.
  • Sewage works including stormwater management facilities, municipal sewage works, and private septic systems.
  • Application and/or storage of manure, fertilizer, and pesticides.
  • Storage of snow collected from an off-site location.

Visit the Drinking Water Source Protection website to learn more.

Does the source protection plan apply to me?

Source Protection Plan policies do not apply to single urban residential properties. This is a property with an urban home for a single family that does not have a septic system or heating oil.

Source Protection Plan policies may apply when:

  • applying for a building permit or planning approval in a source protection area
  • there is an activity of concern in a source protection area

Use the TAPS source water protection mapping tool following these instructions on how to use TAPS to find out if Source Protection Plan policies apply to your property or a property you plan to purchase. 

How does the Source Protection Plan apply to planning and building permit applications?

All planning and building permit applications (including site plan applications) in a vulnerable source protection area require screening for potential drinking water threats and associated Source Protection Plan policies.

The applicant is to complete this initial screening online, answering question about proposed activities. If the activities do not trigger a Prohibition or Risk Management Plan policy in the Source Protection Plan, no further action is required.

If you are proposing to undertake an activity that needs a Risk Management Plan, you will need to negotiate the details of the plan with the Region’s Risk Management Official before your planning application will be accepted or your building permit issued. Contact information for the Region’s Risk Management Official is available at the end of this document.

If you are proposing to undertake an activity that is prohibited in the Source Protection Plan, your planning application will not be accepted and your building permit will not be issued. You may be able to change your application so that it complies with the Source Protection Plan. Complying with the Source Protection Plan may only require minor modifications such as moving the location of activities, reducing the volume of certain chemicals stored, or using an alternate chemical. If these details are modified, the Prohibition may no longer apply and your application can proceed.

Contact Us