Twenty Years since the Drinking Water Tragedy

As we face the COVID-19 pandemic and its severe impacts, we realize just how important it is to safeguard our health. One of our primary needs is clean, safe drinking water. And, while we adapt to current pandemic conditions in 2020, we are reminded of another public health tragedy that struck one of our communities twenty years ago, and we reflect on the vast improvements made since then.

Twenty years ago, a municipal well in Walkerton became contaminated with a deadly bacteria. 

The Government of Ontario established a public inquiry into the drinking water tragedy, led by Justice Dennis O’Conner. He developed 121 recommendations that became the building blocks of today’s multi-barrier framework for drinking water protection in Ontario. It includes the Safe Drinking Water Act (2002), Clean Water Act (2006), and other measures.

Twenty years have passed since the Walkerton water tragedy. There is much we have learned and accomplished since then. And yet, there is much to do. We know that protecting our drinking water is a vital and shared ongoing responsibility – and it starts right at the water source!

In Ontario, the Clean Water Act (2006) protects sources of municipal residential drinking water systems; other types of systems may be included too. The legislation established 19 multi-stakeholder, decision-making source protection committees including municipalities, and 38 source protection authorities comprised of Ontario’s conservation authorities.

In the North Bay-Mattawa region, a Source Protection Plan (SP Plan) was developed to ensure that the drinking water sources for the municipalities of Callander, Mattawa, North Bay, Powassan and South River are protected now and for future generations. The SP Plan is based on the scientific and technical findings and consultations contained in the Assessment Report.  Municipalities, provincial ministries, the Source Protection Authority, the Technical Standards & Safety Authority and NBMCA are designated in the SP Plan to implement specific policies within the plan. Approved by the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks in 2015, the SP Plan is currently being reviewed and potentially revised as part of a mandatory five-year review.  There will be public consultations in 2020 surrounding any proposed changes.

Learn more about the North Bay-Mattawa Source Protection Area, the SP Plan and Assessment Report.  

Through the Safe Drinking Water Act (2002), municipalities provide safe, clean treated drinking water to 85% of Ontarians as part of the multi-barrier approach. The Government of Ontario conducts regular inspections of the water treatment plants. Trust the Tap!


North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority

15 Janey Avenue
North Bay, Ontario
P1C 1N1

Phone: (705) 474-5420
Fax: (705) 474-9793 

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