Oxford County depends on groundwater for its drinking water. However, groundwater is susceptible to contamination from activities occurring on the surface. Contaminants can end up sinking into the ground and impacting the groundwater supply.
Groundwater contamination can occur from:
- leaky fuel tanks
- overuse of fertilizers and pesticides
- manure application
- chemical leaks and spills
- poorly maintained septic systems
If groundwater becomes contaminated it will create long-term issues that are costly to fix. To ensure drinking water is safe and clean it is important to prevent contamination at the source. Source water protection is the first step to protect existing and future sources of drinking water.
Clean Water Act
In 2006, the Ontario Government passed the Clean Water Act, stemming from the Walkerton water tragedy in 2000 when the drinking water supply became contaminated with e-coli bacteria. Seven people died and thousands were sickened.
One of the new measures to come out of the Clean Water Act is the development of Source Protection Plans (SPPs). Oxford County is part of four Source Water Protection areas:
Catfish Creek Source Protection Plan
Long Point Region Source Protection Plan
Grand River Source Protection Plan
Thames-Sydenham and Region Source Protection Plan
These Source Protection Plans were developed by multi-stakeholder source protection committees. The Plans contain policies to ensure potential risks to drinking water are being managed.
Wellhead protection areas (WHPA)
Maps have been created to show the locations of municipal drinking water wells and the vulnerable areas that contribute water to the drinking water system. The vulnerable areas around municipal wells are designated as wellhead protection areas and issue contributing areas. Wellhead protection areas have been given scores and ratings based on their vulnerability and susceptibility to contamination. It is these localized areas that need to be protected and managed to reduce the risk to drinking water.
What if I have a “significant threat” on my property?
Oxford County has identified property owners whose land is within a Wellhead Protection Area, and is reaching out to those property owners to notify them.
The Source Protection Plans include policies that address significant drinking water threats. The Plans manage threat activities using risk management, prohibition, and existing provincial requirements.
Before land owners are required to make any changes to the activities on their property, a County Risk Management Inspector will conduct a site visit to confirm whether the activity constitutes a significant threat under the Clean Water Act. Activities are determined to be significant based on the location within a wellhead protection area and if the activity meets specific circumstances. In most cases, the activity will be allowed to continue, but with some best management practices put into place. These best management practices will help to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.
To see specific maps for the drinking water system closest to your property, visit: maps.oxfordcounty.ca. Select your address where the property lies and the municipal wells that are nearby.
Landowners may be required to implement best management practices (BMPs), as part of a Risk Management Plan, to meet new Source Protection Plan requirements. These BMPs may include projects such as upgrading their facilities and implementing spill response measures to manage and reduce the identified risk to source water. Oxford County is offering a comprehensive incentive program to help reduce the financial impacts of these projects that improve and protect ground water quality.
Eligible projects will be funded at 70% of the total cost of the project to a maximum amount for each project. Each property is limited to a total of $35,000 in incentive funding, not including required septic system improvements, over the life of the program.
Read more about the incentives available for Oxford County land owners.
If you have questions, or for more information contact:
Source Protection Program Coordinator
519-539-9800 ext. 3126
Fact sheet for agricultural land owners
Frequently Asked Questions
Fact sheet for application of pesticides
Fact sheet for handling and storage of pesticides
Fact sheet for DNAPL chemicals
Fact sheet for handling and storage of fuel
Fact sheet for wells
Fact sheet for septic systems
Thames-Sydenham Source Protection Region website
Lake Erie Source Protection Region website