Source Protection Plans on the Farm
Table of Contents
Acronyms used in this Factsheet:
The protection of drinking water is everyone's responsibility. Farmers play a key role in water management on their operations. This Factsheet will help farmers who are impacted by Source Protection Plans (SPPs) by providing an understanding of the different policy types, on-farm compliance requirements and the resources available. It will also cover the options for compliance for farms phased-in under the Nutrient Management Act, 2002 (NMA).
Understand the local Source Protection Plan policy requirements for activities on the farm. Identify the resources that are available to address any threats to drinking water (Figure 1).
The Clean Water Act, 2006, administered by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC), provides an approach for protecting existing and future sources of municipal drinking water. Under the authority of the Act, local Source Protection Committees are using this approach in several ways by:
Figure 1. Fencing keeps livestock from watercourses and reduces the risk of surface water contamination.
Figure 2. Proper storage of fuels reduces the risk to drinking water.
Land-use activities classified as a significant threat to drinking water must be addressed by SPP policies. On-farm activities classified as a significant threat to drinking water include:
Septic systems can also be significant threats on agricultural properties.
Four types of vulnerable areas are described in the Ontario Clean Water Act, 2006, and its Regulations.
Wellhead protection areas (WHPAs) and intake protection zones (IPZs) are two areas where land use activities classified as significant threats to drinking water are directly impacted by SPP policy requirements.
The other two vulnerable areas that may impact land-use activities indirectly through future municipal land-use planning decisions - highly vulnerable aquifers (HVAs) and significant groundwater recharge areas (SGRAs) - are not discussed in this Factsheet.
Figure 3. Wellhead protection areas are divided into areas based on intrinsic vulnerability.
Wellhead Protection Areas (WHPAs)
A wellhead protection area (Figure 3) is an area of land where water pumped by the municipal well is recharged. A WHPA is vulnerable to land-use activities that could impact the quality and quantity of the groundwater that is the municipal drinking water source. Under the Clean Water Act, 2006, significant threats to drinking water within a WHPA are regulated or managed.
Each WHPA is divided into zones (WHPA-A, WHPA-B, etc.), each one progressively farther from the wellhead. Agricultural activities can be impacted by SPP policies in WHPA-A, WHPA-B, WHPA-E and WHPA-F zones.
Include a WHPA-E and F (not shown) where there is surface water interaction with groundwater. A WHPA-Q can also be included where the quantity of groundwater that supplies a municipal well is under stress due to water taking. More information about wellhead protection areas is available from Conservation Ontario.
Intake Protection Zones (IPZs)
An intake protection zone (Figure 4) is an area of water and land that provides water for a municipal surface water intake and is vulnerable to land-use activities that could contaminate or deplete the river, stream or lake that is the municipal drinking water source. Under the Clean Water Act, 2006, significant drinking water threats within an IPZ are regulated or managed.
Each IPZ is divided into zones (IPZ-1, IPZ-2, etc.), each one progressively farther from the intake. Agricultural activities can be impacted by SPP policies in Zone 1, Zone 2 and Zone 3.
An IPZ-Q can be included where the quality of surface water that supplies a municipal intake is under stress due to water taking. More information about intake protection zones is available from Conservation Ontario.
Figure 4. Intake protection zones
Issue Contributing Areas (ICAs)
A water-quality issue, as identified by a local Source Protection Committee, is where a contaminant is present at a level of concern or showing an upward trend, and threatens the municipal drinking water source. The issue contributing area (ICA) is an area of land or water where activities are contributing to the water-quality issue. These activities are classified as significant threats to drinking water.
For example, if nitrate is determined to be affecting the quality of the drinking water, the area from where they originate is defined as the ICA. Under the Clean Water Act, 2006, ICAs are only identified within vulnerable areas.
Source Protection Plans are implemented as they are approved by the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. Farmers whose existing activities are impacted by SPP policies should have been contacted by the local Source Protection Committee and/or conservation authority. If you have not been contacted, or if you are uncertain if you are impacted by SPP policies, contact the local conservation authority or visit the Conservation Ontario website.
Some agricultural activities may be impacted by SPP policies. The policies include information that:
The SPP process should not impact those farmers who have already implemented practices that will meet local SPP policy requirements.
There are many approaches to managing the risks to municipal drinking water sources. These include:
An SPP may contain policies concerning moderate or low threats to drinking water. A municipality must have regard for policies concerning moderate and low threats. Under these circumstances, municipalities may be required to develop education and outreach programs to help landowners become more aware of better ways to manage and protect groundwater and surface water resources. Additional information about how activities are classified as significant, moderate or low threats, and the risk management approaches selected, is available from the local conservation authority.
Under the Clean Water Act, 2006, there are limited options available for farmers when an SPP policy prohibits an existing or future activity that is classified as a significant threat to drinking water. Farmers must comply. The local municipality may be required to revise its planning tools (e.g., Official Plan or bylaws) to be consistent with an SPP policy or revise them on its own to protect groundwater or surface water resources.
Farmers whose activities are classified as significant threats to drinking water may be required to put into place a site-specific risk management plan (RMP). The RMP summarizes the actions a farmer will take to manage the risks associated with an activity that is a significant threat to drinking water. An RMP is not required for moderate or low threats.
An RMP is a legally binding document that summarizes an agreement between a farmer and a local risk management official (RMO). RMOs are employed by the municipality that is responsible for implementing local SPP policies or employed by another organization to which the municipality has delegated its authority (e.g., a conservation authority). An RMO or a risk management inspector (RMI) has authority under the Clean Water Act, 2006, to visit impacted farms as part of the RMP process. RMOs have authority to negotiate and enforce the requirements of RMPs within their municipalities.
In most cases, the RMP can be negotiated between the local RMO and the farmer. If negotiations fail, the RMO has the authority to establish an RMP for the significant threat to drinking water. Where an RMP has been established by an RMO (by order), the farmer has the right to request a hearing with the Environmental Review Tribunal to appeal the order (see below).
It is important to note that an RMO cannot require a condition in an RMP that would effectively stop an activity. The role of the RMO is to implement SPP policies developed by the Source Protection Committee and approved by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. The intent of an RMP is to include conditions that manage any risks associated with an activity that is a significant threat to drinking water. However, farmers could decide on their own not to engage in activities that have been classified as a significant threat.
Because RMOs are local employees of the municipality or conservation authority, the format of an RMP and the process for negotiating it vary across Ontario. Further information about the risk management planning approach is available from the local RMO.
The Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition (OFEC) developed a Farm Source Water Protection Plan framework and workbook to help farmers work through the RMP process. The workbook includes a series of worksheets for creating an inventory of existing activities and assigns a risk reduction rating for any activity that is classified as a significant drinking water threat. This includes worksheets for wellhead protection area zones and surface water intake protection zones. When creating an inventory and assigning risk reduction ratings, you may find that you already manage any identified significant threats to drinking water adequately. Confirm this during the negotiation of the RMP with the RMO.
The framework worksheets are based on principles used in the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP). Some information needed to complete the Farm Source Water Protection Plan workbook can be transferred from your completed 4th edition Environmental Farm Plan workbook. The EFP contains applicable legal standards or agri-environmental benchmarks that have been developed using agricultural and environmental science and technical experience.
An SPP may contain policies that require actions be taken to ensure that agricultural activities (even those already regulated under the NMA) are not, or do not become, significant drinking water threats. Instruments issued under the NMA - both those that are approved by OMAFRA and those that are not - are designated "prescribed instruments" under the Clean Water Act, 2006, and may be used to implement SPP policies. Where these policies exist, OMAFRA will contact farmers who have an approved instrument - a NASM Plan or NMS - to let them know that their instrument will be reviewed. OMAFRA will review approved prescribed instruments affected by SPPs to make sure they comply with the policies. If necessary, OMAFRA will also apply any additional conditions needed as part of the SPP review.
Farmers who have an instrument that is not approved by OMAFRA -NMPs, and some NASM Plans or NMSs - will be requested by OMAFRA to update their instrument so that it complies with the SPP, and then submit the revised instrument for review. It is anticipated that in most cases there will be minor, if any, changes to a prescribed instrument that is compliant with the NMA. However, if the activity is classified as a significant threat to drinking water, the instrument will be reviewed and the activity may require more extensive conditions or limitations.
Phased-In Farms and RMPs
In some situations, an SPP policy may require that an RMP be prepared for an agricultural activity that may already be regulated under the NMA. In this case, a farm operation may be exempt from the requirement for an RMP (Section 61 of Regulation 287/07) and a farmer can choose to have the activity addressed through the instrument.
There are several steps that must be taken to gain this exemption:
It is important to note that the RMO has no authority under the Clean Water Act, 2006, to require specific conditions be added to a prescribed instrument. Nor does the RMO have authority to determine whether a prescribed instrument conforms to the significant drinking water threat policy - this is the role of the instrument creator or issuer. Farmers may voluntarily choose to implement additional actions on the farm, but the RMO cannot require this where the activity is subject to a prescribed instrument or where a statement of conformity has been provided. However, OMAFRA will work closely with RMOs during the review of impacted instruments.
There may be parts of a farm operation that are not subject to an NMA instrument and therefore cannot be exempted from the requirements of an RMP. For example, the land application of agricultural source material on a farm operation may be subject to an NMA instrument, but the land application of pesticides is not. Although pesticide use may be regulated under the Pesticides Act, in these situations, it is necessary to negotiate an RMP with the RMO to ensure that activities comply with local SPP policies.
Source Protection Plans contain land-use planning policies concerning significant, moderate and low threats. Land-use planning tools under the Planning Act (e.g., official plan policies and zoning bylaws) are used by municipalities to permit or restrict certain future land-use categories. Note that these planning tools cannot be used to limit individual activities on the farm, such as the land application of agricultural source material.
Official plans and zoning bylaws must be revised to comply with SPP policies for significant threats and they must consider SPP policies regarding moderate and low threats. Land-use policies usually apply to future land uses and should not affect existing activities on the farm.
SPP policies were developed by Source Protection Committees composed of representatives from the local community. Local conservation authorities can provide information about:
In specific instances, the Clean Water Act, 2006, allows a farmer to request a hearing before the Environmental Review Tribunal (ERT). This includes situations where the RMO (or RMI, where applicable) has issued an order for an RMP under the Act. If a hearing is requested, the ERT will decide if the order should be upheld. Farmers who object to something specific in an RMP may request the RMP be amended. If the RMO or RMI refuses to amend the plan, the farmer can request a hearing based on that refusal.
For more information on how appeal decisions are made, visit the Environment & Land Tribunals Ontario website or view the Guide to Hearings at the Environmental Review Tribunal.
Understanding and getting prepared to comply with the local Source Protection Plan policy requirement includes determining which activities are classified as significant drinking water threats, where these threats are located and how they will be regulated under the Clean Water Act, 2006. Contact local conservation authorities for information on the SPP policies in your area.
This Factsheet was written by Hugh Simpson, Program Analyst, OMAFRA, Guelph, and reviewed by Kevin McKague, P.Eng., Water Management Engineer, OMAFRA, Woodstock; Tim Brook, P.Eng., Water Management Engineer, OMAFRA, Elora; Dale McComb, Environmental Specialist, OMAFRA, Guelph; Trevor Robak, Nutrient Management Program Lead, OMAFRA, Guelph; Helma Geerts, Policy Advisor, OMAFRA, Guelph; Taran Beaty, Issues & Program Coordinator, MOECC; Jason Jessel, Program Coordinator, MOECC; Paul Sims, Divisional Program Specialist, MOECC; and Chitra Gowda, Source Water Protection Lead, Conservation Ontario.
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