Ottawa Citizen

OUR VIEWS Water, water everywhere ...

ourism advertisin­g for Ontario always shows lots of scenes of water: Niagara Falls, rushing rivers, large northern lakes. These images look so pristine.

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TBut the reality is something much less impressive. Problem is we really don’t know how dirty our water really is.

To remedy that lack of knowledge, the Ontario government has passed legislatio­n that will begin a process to take the measure of our most precious resource.

Environmen­t Minister Laurel Broten says her bill ensures that Ontarians have some of the best- protected drinking water in the world. Then she added that “ we’re going to keep it that way because what the Clean Water Act is all about is preventing contaminat­ion.”

The bill sets aside $ 120 million to identify watershed pollution, thus doing the kind of baseline work that needs to be done before a problem can be tackled head- on. Not a bad idea. But it also offers a paltry $ 7 million to deal with problems at source, caused by farm runoff and other threats.

Six years after Walkerton, the worst water tragedy in provincial history, one would think we’d be doing more.

There is no hint of how much the province would be prepared to spend on actually cleaning up Ontario’s water. The bill places an obligation upon municipali­ties and conservati­on authoritie­s to act when tainted water is discov- ered. But these bodies are already wrestling with provincial off- loading of social services.

Under this law, and its yet- tobe- introduced regulation­s, municipali­ties and conservati­on authoritie­s might find they have a problem, but they may not have the financial wherewitha­l to clean the problem up.

Renewing a water supply is not cheap. For example, the city’s sewage treatment plant, the R. O. Pickard Environmen­t Centre, cost about $ 600 million to build and it is said to need $ 200 million in upgrades to keep pace with growth in the city of Ottawa.

Smaller towns, which will be most affected, will not shoulder costs like that when they are faced with protecting water sources, but the price tags will be onerous enough. What will happen if they can’t pay?

Environmen­talists call the law a good first step. Their praise echoes the kudos given to former prime minister Jean Chrétien when he signed the Kyoto protocol.

In the end, the praise was wasted as federal Liberal government­s did little to advance the fight against climate change.

Whether the Ontario Liberals’ Clean Water Act will measure up remains unclear.

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