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2002 Water — Co-winner 1

Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ontario

Protecting Water Supplies at the Source

Population: 458,000

Unlike other large urban centres, the Regional Municipality of Waterloo depends on local water resources for its municipal water supply. The region's challenge was to create a proactive program that preserved and improved water quality, and reduced the risk of contamination from future land uses. The water resources protection strategy includes planning policies to limit high-risk business development near mwater supplies, and financial incentive programs for existing businesses and farmers to carry out appropriate actions. Farmers have implemented new measures, such as installing manure storage facilities, fencing around creeks, and tree planting, that improve and protect water quality. The farming community has responded so well to the programs that there has been a 360 per cent increase in the number of environmental farm plans completed since 1998. The success of the incentive programs rests on the excellent relationship the region has forged with the farming and business communities.


In 1994, the Regional Municipality of Waterloo adopted a water resources protection strategy (WRPS) that included a 10-year program to preserve and improve the quality of water resources. The region initiated the strategy in response to concerns over degrading water quality, and in recognition of its responsibility to provide a clean and safe public water supply. "The region had a couple of incidents in the late 1980s and early 1990s," said Eric Hodgins, manager, water resources protection. "One was industrial contamination in Elmira that contaminated the town's entire water supply."

Unlike other large urban centres in Ontario, 126 groundwater wells supply 75 per cent of the region's water, with 25 per cent coming from the Grand River. "Municipalities like Ottawa or Toronto are on a big river or near the Great Lakes, but we're land-locked and are totally reliant on local water resources," said Mr. Hodgins. Ensuring a safe and viable municipal water supply is important to the future sustainability of the region. In April 2001, the region endorsed a recommendation to develop a 30- to 40-year smart growth plan entitled "Waterloo Region in the 21st Century...Planning our Future." The plan includes eight goals, including protecting the region's water resources.


  • It has cost roughly $6.8 million to implement the WRPS between 1998 and 2002. By contrast, it costs $7.8 million to $10 million to replace one medium-size well field. Protecting groundwater sources reduces the need to build new wells if a well becomes contaminated. "It's always difficult to measure [the financial value of] prevention," said Mr. Murray. "You can't quantify the social cost of a significant groundwater contamination incident."
  • The region is the first municipality in Ontario (and perhaps in Canada) to finance a source water quality incentive program specifically for the agricultural sector.
  • An estimated 6,500 kilograms of phosphorous per year has been prevented from reaching local rivers and creeks.
  • The WRPS has generated a 360 per cent increase in the number of environmental farm plans completed since 1998, and protects public health by identifying contaminated sites and addressing problems before they affect the water supply.

Lessons Learned

  • The region was optimistic that the strategy would be implemented quickly and easily. As it progressed, however, staff realized that the region was embarking on a larger process to change the attitudes that people hold towards water conservation and protection. "We'll never be able to say 'we're done'," said Mr. Murray.
  • The success of the RWQP and BWQP rests on the excellent relationships the region forged with the farming and business communities.



  • Grand River Conservation Authority
  • Ontario Centre for Environmental Technology Advancement
  • Economic development staff from the municipalities of Cambridge,
  • Kitchener, and Waterloo
  • Representatives from over 20 local and provincial farm associations, and from over 30 local businesses and business associations
  • Four local environmental consultants


  • Planning, Housing and Community Services department
  • Community Health department
  • Legal Services division
  • Water Services division
Page Updated: 21/12/2015