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It’s a sign: a call to protect Ottawa’s drinking water sources

October 17, 2018
Feature Stories

We encounter hundreds of roadside signs everyday. Many of them are instantly recognizable to us; they tell us the speed limit, indicate upcoming turns and on and off ramps. But have you ever noticed signs like these?

Sign: Drinking Water Protection Zone

These signs let people know they are entering a zone where drinking water sources are the most vulnerable to contamination. Residents’ need to be careful as their actions in these Drinking Water Protection Zones can have an impact on municipal drinking water sources.

These signs have been approved by the Province. They let first responders know that in the event of an accident, that they need to act quickly to inform the appropriate authorities to take action and keep contaminants out of the public water treatment and distribution system.

Drinking Water Protection Zones are located near municipal wells (called Wellhead Protection Areas) or near rivers where they feed into the municipal water supply (called Intake Protection Zones). In these zones, it’s easier for contaminants to enter the drinking water source, so special precautions are needed to ensure the water remains clean and plentiful.

To ensure the long-term protection of our shared drinking water sources across Ontario, policies have been developed and can be found in locally developed, science-based ‘Source Protection Plans’.  Within Ottawa, measures to protect drinking water are outlined in the Mississippi-Rideau Source Protection Plan and the Raisin-South Nation Source Protection Plan.  The measures mainly apply to governments, industry and some higher risk activities (such as storing a large amount of fuel or chemicals) but there are many small actions we can take everyday to keep our drinking water sources free from contaminants.

Small actions make a big difference

If we all make some small changes, it can make a big difference to our precious drinking water sources. There are plenty of simple ways you can help protect the quality of Ottawa’s drinking water.

In the house:

  • Go natural! Use environmentally friendly products or try good old vinegar or baking soda, which can do the work of most commercial household cleaners.
  • Conserve water. Using less water reduces the burden on rivers and groundwater aquifers as well as on wastewa­ter treatment facilities. Also, too little water in a source can mean contaminants are more concentrated and may rise above safe levels.
  • Not down the drain! Properly dispose of hazardous substances such as paint and pharmaceuticals. Get more information on safe disposal.
  • Ensure furnace oil tanks are in god repair and inspected annually by a qualified person. 

In the yard:

  • Gardeners: turn your green thumb blue by using compost instead of chemical fertilizers, planting native, drought tolerant species and installing a rain barrel for watering.
  • When landscaping, choose porous surfaces instead of concrete and asphalt. Fewer hard surfaces mean less storm­water runoff that carries pollutants to our rivers. Planting trees and leaving your grass longer (eight centimetres or three inches) also helps!

For rural residents:

  • Maintain your septic system to prevent bacteria and nutrient laden runoff.
  • Look after your private well and test your well water regularly.
  • Protect vegetation along the banks of streams and rivers.
  • Take advantage of the great tree planting and shoreline naturalization programs available locally (contact your conservation authority).
  • Preserve wetlands which help purify and replenish drinking water sources.
  • If you farm, consider participation in workshops such as the Environmental Farm Plan (contact the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association).

While municipal water treatment ensures safe tap water, another big measure in protecting our drinking water is doing so at the source. There are many benefits to protecting our drinking water resources:

  • Reduces the cost of water treatment
  • Avoids the need to find new drinking water sources if existing ones become contaminated or depleted
  • Ensures a long term supply of clean water for economic growth
  • Protects property values and supports tourism, recreation and business development
  • Also helps to protect the aquifer that supplies private wells

Next time you are driving and see these signs, share your knowledge with your passengers and let them know all the ways they can help protect our precious drinking water sources.

Check out our Source Protection page for more information, resources, and handy tips! 

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