By Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle
As my family travelled throughout Southern Ontario this summer, we began to notice signs along the roadways which said “Drinking water protection zone”. I have to admit that when I saw these signs I wondered what it was that made this particular place special. Why did this area require protection for their drinking water? Is this a sign of vulnerability or is this a sign of privilege?
Curious, I googled the phrase and discovered that this is part of a larger plan in Ontario to ensure source water protection facilitated by awareness raised following the tragic events in Walkerton in 2000. In fact, according to Source Water Protection Ontario, a significant effort has been made to implement all of the 121 recommendations made by Justice O’Connor following the Walkerton inquiry. As a result, Ontario has a comprehensive drinking water safety net with more than 99.9% of water quality tests since 2004 meeting Ontario’s strict health-based water quality standards.
This safety net includes strong legislation, stringent standards, regular and reliable testing, highly trained, certified operators, licencing of drinking water systems, regular inspections of drinking water systems and labs that test drinking water, public reporting, and a comprehensive source protection program. The site goes on to brag that Ontario received an “A” ranking – the highest in Canada – in Ecojustice’s Canada’s Drinking Water Report Card.
These efforts are commendable. As is the desire to promote awareness of drinking water vulnerability through the placement of the signs. Water cannot easily be isolated and segregated from the potential impacts of our actions around our communities. The more people and communities are aware of the ways water quality can be undermined, the more likely we can work to mitigate these consequences.
Still, as I pour another cup tea taken from water from my kitchen tap, I find myself wondering how it would feel reading all this wonderful information about how Ontario is protecting our drinking if I was living in one of the 87 communities which (according to www.watertoday.ca) are under some form of water advisory at the moment I am writing this. Most of these are First Nations Communities, some of whom have been under a boil water advisory for more than a decade. What is different about these communities which prevents them from proudly posting signs that say “drinking water protection zone”? What can we do to support efforts to ensure that all people in Ontario benefit from the world class standards which now shape and form source water protection in the province?
This year Synod passed a motion “…that all parishes and/or Deaneries in the Diocese of Huron be encouraged to advocate alongside and partner with First Nations communities and to engage with Members of Parliament to ensure that access to safe water and sanitation is realized for all people through efforts directed towards implementation of government agency protocols on water and sanitation standards, in consultation with First Nations communities.” As we seek to develop relationships with First Nations communities following our commitments in regards to Truth and Reconciliation, we are presented with an opportunity to ask First Nations communities what we can do to better support access to safe drinking water and sanitation and then work towards these goals together.
For concrete suggestions about how we might engage governments, check out the Council of Canadians Blue Water projects including their suggestions for teachers and students found at https://canadians.org/blog/how-students-and-teachers-can-take-action-clean-water-first-nations.
Water is a gift of the Creator, may we all seek to ensure that everyone can benefit from this gift fully.
Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is co-chair, Social Justice Huron.