Around the Nation
by Tom Van Dusen
It feels like about a dozen years since the Raisin-South Nation Source Protection Committee started beavering away to ensure that communal drinking water in a large region of Eastern Ontario is as safe as it can possibly be.
Maybe it has been a little longer since the SPC hit the ground. I’ve been a member of the committee almost from the beginning, launching into it under inaugural chairman, late former North Dundas Mayor Claude Cousineau, and representatives of regional agriculture, business, municipalities, and the public, many of whom like me are still in place.
A past member of the board of South Nation Conservation and a long-time member of is Communications Committee, I came on board the SPC as a public rep. Back then, I wasn’t sure whether we would ever wade through the red tape and actually accomplish something… but as the years flowed by, we did and we have!
It remains a work in progress and may always be, a marathon not a sprint, interrupted by new provincial governments taking power and lately by COVID-19. I was thinking about the lengthening history of the SPC while attending the latest Raisin-South Nation meeting Thursday, Zoomed rather than live, now under the chairmanship of Ray Beauregard, a farmer and past South Stormont Volunteer of the Year.
There was all kinds of groundwork to do early on, including determining what regulations were already in place and what ministries had an oar in it, pinpointing regional water sources and potential hazards. Ontario’s 19 SPCs weren’t out to re-invent the waterwheel but to fill in gaps which might permit contaminants to flow through into community taps as they did in Walkerton 20 years ago.
For those who don’t remember that fatal fiasco, E. coli bacteria as the result of lax water treatment sickened 2,000 residents and caused six deaths. The tragedy resulted in implementation of the Ontario Clean Water Act under which Source Protection Areas were created and regional SPCs struck.
The Raisin-South Nation SPC filed numerous reports along the way on every aspect of the assigned task, making improvements incrementally which are applied in real life by Risk Management Officials.
I can say this without reservation for residents of the Raisin-South Nation protection area: The safety of your municipal drinking water, particularly its sources be they underground aquifers or above ground such as the St. Lawrence River, is much more of a given than before this process started. The same can be said for residents of 18 other protection zones where similar processes were enacted.
Municipal drinking water sources have been clearly identified, possible contamination sites underlined and firm separations put in place. These days, authorities in the Raisin-South Nation jurisdiction have all the facts at their fingertips when it comes to keeping potentially hazardous uses away from clean water supplies.
One of the great successes of at least the Raisin-South Nation SPC has been the smooth working relationship forged with the agricultural community over the years; of course, it doesn’t hurt that the committee has been stacked with farmers, four to six at any given time, and that we consult continuously with farm leaders.
From the outset, the agricultural piece was the most delicate. Many uniformed observers had blamed livestock manure seepage for Walkerton – when the true culprit was actually treatment plant operators asleep at the switch – and farmers across the province didn’t appreciate it one bit. Getting farmers actively involved in the SPC process took finesse and understanding… with very successful results.
As Alison McDonald, who’s in charge of Source Protection approvals in the region, observed during the Zoom meeting, farmers are traditionally great stewards of the land and don’t have to be pushed too hard to do anything that makes sense when it comes to guarding the primary resource of clean water.