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2006 Water

Municipality of Chelsea

H2O Chelsea

Population: 6,500

Chelsea sits atop the Precambrian Shield of Gatineau Park. This not only prevents the municipality from developing a water or sewage system, it also means that residents must rely exclusively on groundwater for drinking water. Recognizing the need to protect this precious resource, H2O Chelsea aims to maintain the area's high water quality by providing educational initiatives to residents. The program is delivered in partnership with a local non-governmental organization and the University of Ottawa. Since 2003, almost 1,000 wells have been inspected and more than 1,000 residents have been surveyed to assess their water use. Results from that survey prompted Chelsea Council to require that developments on all parcels of land four hectares or larger must demonstrate that the groundwater supply is sufficient to provide water to the proposed number of residences.


Chelsea prides itself as an environmentally conscious municipality, one with close ties to its natural surroundings and an obligation to respect nature. Two thirds of the Chelsea area lies within Gatineau Park. Residents of the town rely exclusively on wells for drinking water. Given the geological constraints of the area, installing a municipal water system using water from other sources, such as the Gatineau River, was too expensive.

Instead, Chelsea opted to preserve and protect its water resources for future generations. Patrick Henry, H2O Chelsea's project coordinator, explains that although well water is a private responsibility, the municipality "took the leap" with its involvement in the project. "H2O Chelsea fulfilled the municipality's vision of environmental stewardship and complemented the many sustainable development programs, legislation and practices that Chelsea has implemented over the past decade."

Those programs include a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides, a wetlands protection bylaw, comprehensive waste management and composting programs, and a municipality-wide septic tank emptying program. A sustainable development officer oversees all the municipality's environmental initiatives and was initially in charge of H2O Chelsea.

H2O Chelsea also helps the municipality achieve its objectives under FCM's PCP program. Using the PCP framework, Chelsea aims to ensure that it has a sufficient quality and quantity of water, now and in the future.


  • Stream and lake water sampling identified contaminated sites and areas at risk of water shortages and natural contaminants. Mitigation strategies were then proposed. A comprehensive annual report is produced. It contains sampling data, results and recommendations.
  • Community participation has been tremendous with as many as 100 resident volunteers working on the project at any time of year.
  • By partnering with others, Chelsea acquired extensive water quality and quantity data at a fraction of the cost of hiring private consultants.
  • Results from the water survey prompted Chelsea Council to adopt its Comprehensive Development Program. The program requires developers of properties four hectares (10 acres) or larger to conduct in-depth water quantity tests to ensure a sufficient supply of groundwater before the development is approved.
  • In 2005, data from 700 well water tests were compiled. The data represented 517 unique sites that had not been sampled previously, an 89 percent increase in the number of sites tested from 2004. Under H2O Chelsea's Well Water Quality program, residents receive group rates to test their wells for a wide variety of substances (e.g., bacteria, metals, etc.). Between 2003 and 2005, data on the quality of more than 850 wells were collected.
  • Sampling results showed that about one quarter of Chelsea's water wells had some bacterial contamination attributable to surface water contamination by rains, snow melt, local water bodies such as wetlands, or a combination of these factors. Water kits were sent to all homes and to businesses that provide information on protecting and preserving water quality.
  • Results from the 2003 and 2004 water survey also prompted Chelsea Council to invest $50,000 in a comprehensive Water Census. Developed and implemented by H2O Chelsea, the Water Census aims to acquire more detailed information on water use and availability, particularly in neighbourhoods with reports of water shortage above background levels.

Lessons Learned

  • PARTNERS ARE KEY. H2O Chelsea's success depended on key partners such as ACRE and the University of Ottawa. Expertise was available for free and funding opportunities were "more numerous since each of the partners qualifies for different funding programs," notes Mr. Henry. In addition, Dr. Scott Findlay, the Institute's Director, played a key role in developing the project, engaging students and other faculty by drawing on their knowledge and skills in sampling, protocols, database development, laboratory analysis and the analysis and interpretation of sample data.
  • NURTURE VOLUNTEERS. The steering committee and project coordinator realized the importance of recruiting volunteers. Their high level of commitment meant that results could be reported back to the community on a regular basis.
  • KEEP MOMENTUM GOING. Many residents tested their wells in 2003, but few re-tested them in 2004. H2O Chelsea is reviewing how it can provide tools that will motivate residents to test their wells regularly.

Partners and Collaboration


  • Municipality of Chelsea


  • University of Ottawa, Institute of Environment
  • Action Chelsea for the Respect of the Environment (ACRE)
  • Resident volunteers from the Chelsea community
  • Fonds d'action québécois pour le développement durable
  • Centre local de développement (CLD) des Collines de L'Outaouais
  • North American Fund for Environmental Cooperation
  • Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation
  • Environment Canada, Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network
Page Updated: 21/12/2015