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Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation
For more information
please contact:

Sommer Casgrain-Robertson
Co-Project Manager
Mississippi-Rideau Source
Protection Region

Tel.: 613-692-3571 or
1-800-267-3504 ext 1147




March 7, 2011 The Importance of Water
March 7, 2011 How Much Water Do We Have?
March 30, 2011 Who Protects Our Water?
April 5, 2011 How Can You Help Protect Our Water?
World Water Day — March 22, 2011
The Importance of Water — March 7, 2011    

This is the first of four backgrounders on the sources, use and protection of our local water supply right here in Eastern Ontario. These four articles will give lots of food for thought as we celebrate World Water Day on March 22.

Water appears in many forms in our lives…lakes, rivers, wetlands, groundwater and drinking water among others. Each is important to humans and to many other forms of life which depend on it, and each form of water is linked to all other forms.

Wetlands cover about 15% of our area providing huge benefits in terms of flood reduction, recharge of the underground water for wells, habitat for plants and animals, waste treatment and nutrient recycling. A recent Ontario study calculated that wetlands provide an estimated value of $247 per person per year in these so-called ecological goods and services. In other words, Mother Nature through wetlands does for free what we would otherwise have to pay millions of dollars to do through technology and infrastructure. When we remove the wetlands, we lose the services.
The beautiful lakes in the Mississippi and Rideau valleys and many others of Eastern Ontario add huge value and interest to the lives of residents and visitors alike. All of the recreational pursuits suitable to lakes (fishing, boating, birding, swimming) are healthy antidotes to the high stress of our urban lives. The tourism value of the lakes creates millions of dollars in revenue for the municipalities and the businesses in the area. Lakes occupy less than 5% of the local landscape but remain as one of the most memorable and sought-after places for vacations and, increasingly, retirement living.
The rivers, streams and creeks that make up the drainage pattern of the area is under stress. People tend to clear cut or harden the banks of small local streams under the mistaken impression that these watercourses are of little value. In fact, the tissue of small tributary feeder streams to the Mississippi, Rideau or Ottawa Rivers can easily be 30 times longer than the main rivers themselves! And research shows us that these tributaries are often in poorer environmental health. Taking care of the “tribs” is often the first course of action in taking care of the big rivers.
Studies show that about 17% of the people in the Mississippi and Rideau watersheds (over 140,000 people) rely on groundwater and wells as their daily source of household water. Groundwater is vulnerable to whatever type of activity is happening on the ground surface above. It becomes important to know and protect the areas around the well head from storage, use and spills of hazardous materials. Groundwater also flows eventually into rivers and streams keeping up the supply of surface water even during surface droughts and extended hot weather.
How Much Water Do We Have? — March 7, 2011

Eastern Ontario is blessed with a sufficient quantity of good quality water to do most everything we want to do … it is a liquid legacy that is the envy of the world. While we sometimes experience local gaps in supply or quality at certain times of the year or as a result of particular man-made events, we generally have plenty of water for our needs. However, with our abundant water comes a responsibility not to waste it so we can ensure there is enough for fish, wildlife, in stream needs and for future generations.

How much water we get and where it goes in the watershed is known as the water budget. In our area, we have traditionally received an average of 912 mm of water a year as rain and snow. An astonishing 547 mm of that (60%) is very quickly lost back to the atmosphere either through evaporation or humidity after being used by plants. That leaves 40% or about 365 mm to flow through the valley as lakes, streams and groundwater to be used by animals and people in various ways.

About 13% of the Rideau and Mississippi watersheds are covered by marshes, swamps, bogs and fens. These wetlands provide many valuable ecological services to the people of the valley such as flood reduction, wildlife habitat, erosion protection, water cleansing and groundwater recharge.
The beautiful surface waters of the Mississippi and Rideau valleys provide other valuable products and services for people. These include residential sites, recreation of many kinds, fish and wildlife and a lot of peace and quiet. Surface water made up of lakes, rivers and streams is estimated to cover about 7% of the local land mass. Combined with the estimated 13% covered by wetlands means about 20% of our region is water! This is much greater than most other areas of the world.
Only 10% of our rain and snow makes its way down through the soil to replenish our underground water sources (aquifers). In the Mississippi and Rideau watersheds, groundwater is critical to the nearly 140,000 people who rely entirely on wells for their daily potable water. Fortunately, scientists tell us that there is much more water underground than we see on the surface. While there seems to be plenty of local groundwater, we can experience periodic shortages due to seasonal or man-made fluctuations.
  Drinking water:
Drinking water use (both from municipal systems and private wells) accounts for less than 1% of the total amount of water available in our area. Agriculture and industry use even less than that.
In the end, our demand is fairly low in relation to the amount of water available in Eastern Ontario. Supply however can vary from day to day, month to month and year to year depending on weather, climate, land cover and human uses or abuses. Canadians are among the heaviest water users in the world with each of us using 300+ litres of water each day! Even in our region it is good practice to use water wisely so we can keep our supply and demand balanced for years to come. This balance is critical for the health and well-being of our watershed residents.
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Who Protects Our Water ? — March 30, 2011    

We all know humans depend on clean water to survive.  We need it for cooking, cleaning and most importantly drinking!  Water is also critical to plants and animals, especially fish; it is essential for agriculture and industry; it adds value to properties; and it provides many recreational opportunities.  So who ensures that water in Eastern Ontario stays clean and is used wisely? Read on to discover the many people involved. .

You find wetlands (marshes, swamps, bogs and fens) along the edges of lakes, rivers and streams and in low lying areas where water pools either some or all of the year.  In Ontario, it is the Ministry of Natural Resources (www.mnr.gov.on.ca) and some municipalities, who identify and map wetlands that need to be protected. Conservation Authorities (www.conservationontario.ca) then protect these wetlands by limiting what development can take place in, or within 120 metres, of these wetlands.  Why protect wetlands?  Because they provide many benefits like reducing erosion and flooding, improving water quality, providing wildlife habitat and promoting groundwater recharge.

Just like your regular visit to the doctor, conservation authorities and their volunteers regularly perform "check-ups" on lakes, rivers and streams to see if they are healthy.  They check water temperature and quality and the types of bugs, fish and plants that are living in the water.  Similarly, Conservation authorities and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (www.ene.gov.on.ca) use a network of wells across the province to track the amount and quality of Ontario’s groundwater.

To help protect local lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater:

  • Conservation authorities and municipalities (and Parks Canada on federal waterways like the Rideau Canal) work together to review applications for new lots and development.  Their job is to protect fish habitat, wetlands, shorelines and groundwater and ensure responsible waterfront development, especially in floodplains. If a project might harm fish habitat, approval may be required from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca) .  
  • Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment limits what people can release into surface and groundwater.  They also regulate people wanting to take more than 50,000 litres of water a day from a river, lake, stream or groundwater.
  • The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (www.omafra.gov.on.ca) manages some farm operations to prevent manure and fertilizer runoff.  
  • Other pieces of legislation regulate mining activities, pesticide use, aggregate extraction, septic systems, landfills, fuel storage, sewage treatment plants and stormwater ponds.  
Drinking water:
Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment stringently regulates municipal drinking water by regularly inspecting water treatment plants and requiring a high level of operator training and record keeping.  Conservation Authorities and municipalities are now working with this Ministry to further protect the sources of water (lakes, rivers and groundwater) that supply municipal water treatment facilities.  By August 2012, policies will be developed by local Source Protection Committees to manage activities like fuel and chemical storage and pesticide and fertilizer use close to municipal wells and surface water intake pipes in rivers and lakes.  

For rural residents on private wells, Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment does legislate how a new well must be constructed and how an unused one must be sealed.  This is to help prevent chemicals and bacteria on the ground from travelling down wells and polluting groundwater.  Rural property owners are responsible for having their own water tested and ensuring that it is being properly treated if necessary. It is recommended that private well owners have their well water tested two to three times a year, a service offered free of charge by local health units (www.health.gov.on.ca/english/public/contact/phu/phuloc_mn.html).
The Public:
Rules alone cannot protect water. Conservation authorities, municipalities, government ministries, lake associations, farm groups, stewardship councils, community groups, riverkeepers, volunteer organizations and individuals like you, deliver or take part in countless programs each year that help protect water by educating and encouraging.    
  • Public education campaigns help make people aware of the value of water and how they can help protect it.
  • Land acquisition programs provide people with incentives to donate sensitive lands (wetlands, waterfront) to agencies like conservation authorities and land trusts so ecological features and functions are protected in perpetuity.
  • Stewardship incentive programs help people make positive changes on their property that protect water quality – projects like upgrading wells and septic systems, planting trees, naturalizing shorelines and preventing manure, fertilizer and pesticide runoff.     
So Who Should You Call?
Not quite sure who to call about your next personal water-related project?   Easiest and most reliable thing to do is contact the Information Specialists at the LandOwner Resource Centre at 613-692-3571 or 1-800-267-3504 who will figure out who you need to talk to about your proposed work.   Keep their number handy.
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How Can You Help Protect Our Water? — April 5, 2011

Recent water research shows that, in general, there is a sufficient amount of good quality water (despite the occasional seasonal gaps or man-made problems) for most everything we want to do here in Eastern Ontario including maintaining a healthy aquatic environment. We know that water is in constant motion and that it occurs in many forms in our area. We learned that around 20% of the Mississippi-Rideau area is made up surface water of one kind or another. And that there is no guarantee that the regular replenishment of groundwater and lakes by seasonal rainfall and snowmelt will continue as it has in the past. We know that several different layers of government and many different government agencies have the responsibility to protect various aspects of our water supply and its quality.
So, in the face of all this water knowledge and responsibility, is there anything that one small Eastern Ontario family or even an individual can do to help protect our valuable supply of clean water?

Indeed there is. There are scores of tips about conserving our water supplies at home, school and office. They include fixing dripping taps, brushing your teeth with the water turned off and using the clothes and dish washers only when full.

It is all about reducing the unnecessary amount of water we use each day (more than 300 litres compared to Europe and Scandinavia at about half that per person per day) and not degrading or abusing the quality of our water by adding harmful substances. In other words, lower quantity and higher quality is the goal.
Here are the top three easy fixes around the house that would be big steps in the right direction…if you can accomplish these, Ontario will be well on the way to protecting our water:

  • Make sure that your family’s septic system is functioning properly. Faulty/old/non-existent septic systems are one of the prime sources of contamination of surface and groundwater in our area. Call your municipality’s septic service provider (either the Health Unit, the municipality itself or the Conservation Authority) for advice on how to do it.    This one step is the single best action you can take to protect water quality.
  • Next time you replace that old toilet or shower head, take the opportunity to replace the dinosaur with a modern, new low-flow device. There are lots of models available and this one step will help reduce the quantity of water that your family consumes and flushes down the drain each day without any real hardship on your part.
  • If you have property (especially near a lake or watercourse), plant a tree in May for each of your children for each of the next ten years. If you live in an apartment, urge the building owner to allow you to plant a few trees on the grounds. Trees are nature’s little environmental cleaning stations that purify the air and water, improve the soil, provide wildlife habitat, buffer wind and noise and they do it all for free for up to 80 years. Planting a tree is the single most effective all-around action you can take to ensure a healthy natural environment for the next generation.