FAQs and Fact Sheets

Yes, for the most part.

Based on monitoring results collected by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, municipally treated drinking water usually meets Ontario’s drinking water quality standards. However, there continue to be communities in Ontario and across Canada that are subject to boil water advisories.

Communities in Ontario have learned not to be complacent about drinking water. In May 2000 the province’s drinking water became the focus of intense concern when seven people from the town of Walkerton died, and more than 2,300 others became ill from drinking contaminated water. This tragedy underlined the importance of protecting public health against the risks of unsafe drinking water, and led to a public inquiry conducted by Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor and the subsequent development of provincial legislation intended to ensure drinking water safety, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, and its Regulations, the Nutrient Management Act, 2002, and the Clean Water Act, 2006.

For an in depth collection of Frequently Asked Questions on the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 and its Regulations, see: http://www.cela.ca/publications/faqs-safe-drinking-water-act-2002-and-its-regulations

For other publications about the Safe Drinking Water Act, see: http://www.cela.ca/collections/water/safe-drinking-water-act

For information about Ontario source water protection and the Clean Water Act, see: http://www.cela.ca/collections/water/source-water-protection

For detailed information about the Nutrient Management Act, see: http://www.cela.ca/collections/water/nutrient-management-protecting-water-resources-manure-and-biosolids  

Last updated October 2012

The Ontario Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 (SDWA) and its regulations comprise one of four legislative changes recommended in the Report of the Walkerton Inquiry. While the SDWA is an important part of the overall protection framework, the Inquiry also recommended legislation to address source protection (e.g. Clean Water Act, 2006), agricultural issues (e.g. Nutrient Management Act, 2002), and financing water systems (e.g. Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act, 2010).

The SDWA addresses the treatment and distribution of drinking water in Ontario, its main features include:

  • drinking-water quality standards,
  • licensing for water-testing laboratories,
  • approvals process for private water supply systems,
  • duties on owners,
  • operating authorities and laboratories to immediately report adverse water tests, 
  •  enforcement mechanisms, and
  • an annual drinking-water report published by the Environment Minister.

The SDWA also establishes the Advisory Council on Drinking-water Quality and Testing Standards, to consider issues and provide recommendations relating to standards for drinking-water quality and testing in Ontario.

Regulations enacted under the SDWA include the:

  • Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standards Regulation (O. Reg. 169/03),
  • Drinking Water Systems Regulation (O. Reg. 170/03) as amended,
  • Compliance & Enforcement (O. Reg. 242/05),
  • Drinking Water Testing Services Regulation (O. Reg. 248/03),
  • Certification of Drinking-water System Operators & Water Quality Analysts (O. Reg. 128/04),
  • Schools, Private Schools & Day Nurseries (O. Reg. 243/07) and its lead standard amendment (O.Reg. 417/09),
  • Financial Plans Regulation (O. Reg. 453.07), and the 
  • Licensing of Municipal Drinking Water Systems (O. Reg. 188/07).

For an in depth collection of frequently asked questions on the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 and its Regulations, see: http://www.cela.ca/publications/faqs-safe-drinking-water-act-2002-and-its-regulations  

Last updated October 2012

No, not in our opinion. Bill C-36 was awaiting final proclamation before the May 2, 2011 federal election. It will likely be passed into law during the new Parliament. It will replace a major portion of the Hazardous Products Act, a law that has not been modernized since it was first enacted in the late 1960s. New powers in Bill C-36 include the ability to legally require the recall of unsafe products. The bill also updates and clarifies powers that already exist for Health Canada inspectors. For example, inspectors already have the authority to enter and inspect, without a warrant, a place where regulated business-related activities occur, such as consumer product manufacturing. This inspection power, including the updated powers provided for in Bill C-36 is typical of many provincial and federal statutes. Bill C-36 does not add new or extraordinary powers to inspectors. Where a regulated business occurs in a private home, Bill C-36 requires that the inspector obtain the owner's consent or, where this consent is refused, the inspector must first obtain a warrant to conduct an inspection. Bill C-36 also contains specific language noting that, "for greater certainty, this Act does not apply to natural health products as defined in subsection 1(1) of the Natural Health Products Regulations made under the Food and Drugs Act." In summary, we have reviewed Bill C-36 and many other pieces of legislation and regulations and we do not agree that the constitutional or legal rights of consumers or manufacturers are under attack by this bill.

Last updated June 2011

ANSWER: No. Compensation obligations only arise if a municipality or source protection authority exercises its expropriation powers to implement an approved Source Protection Plan pursuant to section 92 of the Clean Water Act, 2006.


The overall purpose of Ontario’s Clean Water Act, 2006 (“CWA”) is to protect existing and future sources of drinking water against “drinking water threats.” “Drinking water threat” is defined... download two page fact sheet below.

Last updated April 2008

CWA FAQ_1.pdf

ANSWER: Terms of Reference are locally drafted “work plans” to direct the source protection planning process now underway in Source Protection Areas and Regions across Ontario. The mandatory content requirements for Terms of Reference are largely prescribed by regulation. There are key opportunities for public review and comment upon proposed Terms of Reference before these documents are approved by the Minister of the Environment.


Background: The overall purpose of Ontario’s Clean Water Act, 2006 (“CWA”) is to protect existing and future sources of... download 4 page fact sheet below.

Last updated May 2008

CWA FAQ_2.pdf

ANSWER: Because the Clean Water Act, 2006 is aimed at anticipating and preventing degradation of drinking water sources, the legislation is inherently precautionary. While the source protection planning process is intended to be science-based, there may be inevitable data gaps or scientific uncertainty at the local level as Source Protection Committees identify, assess, and address drinking water threats. In such circumstances, the precautionary principle mandates that where activities or conditions may create serious or irreversible impacts upon groundwater or surface water, the lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing or avoiding measures to prevent contamination or depletion of drinking water sources.


Evolution of the Precautionary Principle Over the past two decades, the precautionary principle has emerged as a fundamental concept that promotes proactive and... download 4 page fact sheet below.

Last updated May 2009

CWA FAQ _3.pdf

ANSWER: Assessment Reports are prepared by local Source Protection Committees in accordance with their approved Terms of Reference, and are generally intended to identify and evaluate threats to the quality or quantity of drinking water sources (i.e. surface water or groundwater). The mandatory content requirements for Assessment Reports are prescribed by law, regulation, and technical rules. There are key opportunities for public review of, and comment upon, Assessment Reports before these documents are approved by the Ministry of the Environment.


Background The overall purpose of Ontario’s Clean Water Act, 2006 (“CWA”) is to protect existing and future sources of drinking water.1 To achieve this purpose, the CWA has...  download 4 page fact sheet below.

Last updated June 2009

CWA FAQ _4.pdf

ANSWER: Activities or conditions which may adversely affect drinking water quantity (i.e. consumptive uses or activities reducing aquifer recharge) must be evaluated in Assessment Reports in accordance with technical rules issued by the Ministry of the Environment under the Clean Water Act, 2006. These rules require Source Protection Committees to prepare water budgets at varying scales and levels of detail in order to accurately understand groundwater flows, surface water flows, and potential stresses on these resources. Where necessary, detailed risk assessments shall be undertaken by Source Protection Committees in local areas in order to determine whether such activities or conditions constitute significant or moderate drinking water threats.


Background: Assessment Reports

Assessment Reports are generally intended to serve as the technical and scientific basis for developing appropriate Source Protection Plans under the Clean Water Act, 2006 ("CWA"). In essence, Assessment Reports must: Download rest of 5-page fact sheet below.

Last updated June 2009


Yes, our list is focused on the province of Ontario. Note that we do not maintain a similar list for all of Canada. Lawyers are called to the bar within individual provinces and each province has its own Law Society that, among other functions, often provide a lawyer referral service. We suggest an on-line search for provincial law societies.

Last updated January 2013

CELA specializes in environmental law whereas legal questions about managing citizen or environmental groups generally fall outside our areas of expertise. We suggest seeking advice from the Help for Non-Profits area of the Volunteer Lawyers Service website, a service sponsored by the Law Foundation of Ontario.

Ontario Nature has also developed a Risk Management Manual for Canadian Environment and Nature Groups that provides helpful advice.

See also the Citizen's Handbook for lots of great information about community organizing.

Last updated July 2013

Yes. Like other specialty clinics within Legal Aid Ontario, CELA counsel can serve as a resource to other Legal Aid clinics, to private bar lawyers, MPPs and community agencies. In addition, CELA lawyers may serve as co-counsel with private bar lawyers in cases where CELA's financial eligibility and case selection criteria are satisfied. See the contact us page for CELA counsel contact information.

Last updated March 2013