By Nathan Stevens
May 27, 2011
Ontario is taking steps to protect our source water. However, we really don’t know what sort of impact this protection will have on farmers and their livelihoods. The requirements farmers may face, and the manner in which this process develops, will greatly impact agriculture’s support for the Clean Water Act.
Nathan Stevens is the Research and Policy Advisor for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and UCB Canada radio stations in Chatham, Belleville, Bancroft, Brockville and Kingston. It is also archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.
There are a variety of options that source water committees are able to use to improve water quality. These range from voluntary and educational options, to regulatory enforcement, to outright prohibition of activity. First and foremost, the voluntary approach allows flexibility both for municipal government and land owners. Voluntary incentives and educational options are relatively low-cost options for both farmers and government.
In contrast, the regulated approach will force compliance. The positive aspects for regional government are that regulation makes things happen that might not get addressed voluntarily. The negative is the “push back” from land owners and the possibility of inadequate capacity on the part of land owners to implement the necessary changes.
Using a matrix that combines threats and proximity, a farm with a score higher than 80 out of 100 will be classed as a significant drinking water threat and action will need to be taken. This means that most farmers will probably not be impacted by the Clean Water Act. But in specific regions, there may be clusters of farms impacted. Unfortunately, we still do not know what will be required of farmers, and the solution may be different depending on which region the farm is located in, and what form of compensation or other assistance will be available.
The Clean Water Act is a concern for farmers because the impacts are unknown. Our members believe in proper stewardship of the land, but are worried about costly, onerous regulations. A voluntary, cost-shared approach to improving water quality seems to be the most likely for garnering wide-spread farmer support. Hopefully, incentive-based water quality improvement measures will find a strong place within the developing framework for source water protection.