Freshwater Scarcity: The Current Situation in Southern Ontario
Access to clean drinking water is essential for survival of humanity and the earth. With the global population approaching eight billion (Population Reference Bureau, 2018), protecting the availability of clean drinking water is becoming increasingly important to sustain the growing number of people on the planet. Unfortunately, many places in the world are experiencing drinking water shortages due to overconsumption and contamination of freshwater resources (Gleeson & Richter, 2017; Richey et al., 2015). Global changes in climate are also serving to reduce even further the availability of clean water and many parts of the globe are already struggling with freshwater supply (Weber et al., 2017; Veldkamp et al., 2016). While access to clean water remains a global concern, there are select places on the planet where there appears to be a sufficient supply. Southern Ontario is one such location where there appears to be an abundance of freshwater. Streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater serve as sources of drinking water, and are collectively referred to as “source water” (Emerson & Jesperson, 1998). Source water protection under the Ontario Clean Water Act, 2006 emerged after a fatal outbreak of Escherichia coli (E. coli) in 2000 into the drinking water system in Walkerton, Ontario. Following that incident, new provincial policies were implemented to protect raw drinking water at source (Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, 2014). Ontario is experiencing the same threats to its drinking water supplies as the rest of the world; that is, contamination and overconsumption (Bruce et al., 2017; Anderson et al., 2016), in addition to the effects of climate change (McDermid et al., 2015). Contamination originates largely from industrial activities, but also from wastewater treatment plants, which do not have the ability to treat contaminants such as micro-plastics that are present in consumable products (Pivokonsky et al., 2018; Baldwin et al., 2016). Bottled water companies are permitted to withdraw more water than can be replenished by natural processes, which can deplete water resources (Bruce et al., 2017; Griswold, 2017). Additionally, reductions in government funding to provincial environmental agencies, federal contaminated sites and rapid urban expansion in the Greater Toronto Area, contaminated soil dumping in the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Canadian ‘myth of water abundance,’ water contamination on First Nations reserves, and Bill 108, all represent a threat to the sustainability and management of freshwater resources in southern Ontario. Despite the issues prevalent for freshwater resources in the world, the general consensus amongst Ontarians is that there is an abundance of clean drinking water in the province (Warren, 2016; Schindler, 2006). However, Ontarians do not understand that, without immediate changes to source water protection, southern Ontario may find itself in the same dire situation as the rest of the planet. This paper will examine the current state of the world’s freshwater resources to supply potable water, the status of southern Ontario’s freshwater resources, and the actions and policy changes that are required to protect the availability of clean drinking water to support the needs of future generations of Ontarians.