OFA Water Policy

We recycle water - withdraw it, use it, sometimes clean it, and then return it to the lake or river to be used again by others downstream. Only a small portion of the water in lakes and aquifers is renewed each year from rainfall and snow melt. For example, it is estimated that only about one per cent of the water in the Great Lakes is renewed each year. The remaining stored water may date as far back as the Ice Ages. This stored water cannot be replaced if it is used.

Farmers represent only 15% of the rural population, but they own and manage a much higher percentage of the rural landscape. In Ontario farmland covers a total area of 13.5 million acres (Census data, 2001). Farmers rely on the air, soil and water to conduct their business, and as such, have a vested interest in the sustainability of these resources. Because of the nature of agriculture in Ontario, and the fact that farmers interact intimately with the natural environment on a daily basis, an agricultural perspective to water resources management is important.

The water quality issue seems to become entangled in many other issues such as intensive livestock operations, groundwater monitoring, well head protection areas, new regulations for waterworks, re-zoning agricultural lands for quarry extraction or other industrial purposes and proper abandonment of wells and manure pits.

Local water shortages are already occurring in Ontario and water shortage problems in Ontario are likely to increase over time due to a combination of demographic and environmental factors. Successful agriculture is based upon encouraging conditions that allow plants and animals to thrive. A critical element of those conditions is an adequate supply of water. The presence of a reliable water supply with appropriate quality and quantity is essential to agriculture and we want to ensure that future water resources are not compromised.

OFA is committed to the development of farm practices that ensure that rural water quality is maintained or enhanced. OFEC through the Water Quality Working Group began examining groundwater quality issues in 1992 and continue to be involved with this issue.

 Water Testing

Most farm families are supplied by wells tapping into groundwater. As our environment changes, so can the quality of our drinking water. Early detection of water quality problems can protect the health of your family and sustainability of your business. Regular water testing will give property owners a reliable benchmark, and may provide insight on future changes to water quality.

Water should be assessed for a broad-range of contaminants plus ongoing monitoring to ensure high quality water. Farmers should keep a file with their water quality results to enable tracking of changes in quality. Farmers should test their water with the frequency suggested by the Ministry of Health – 3 times per year for bacteria, annually for nitrate and every five years for a full spectrum of potential contaminants. Where bacteria is found repeatedly with the Ministry of Health bacterial test, test further to determine the source.

Well Construction and Maintenance

A properly constructed and maintained well is one of the critical elements that safeguards groundwater. As the owner of the well, you are required to maintain your well to keep out surface water and other foreign materials. In many cases, the well itself can be the major factor causing water quality problems. Wells should be assessed and routine maintenance performed annually to ensure a water-tight casing and cap and to prevent serious failures that could occur when the condition of the well is unmonitored. Provincial regulations for private water wells are captured under Regulation 903, well owners are encouraged to familiarize themselves with this document to ensure their wells meet the regulations. Where the well does not meet the current provincial guidelines, the well should be upgraded or decommissioned. A licensed well- contractor should be used for well construction, maintenance, repair, and upgrades.

Well Decommissioning

The Ontario Groundwater Association has estimated there are more than 100, 000 abandoned wells across Ontario. Abandoned wells are direct avenues to aquifers and often are more permeable than the surrounding, intact soil and geological structures. This provides a short-cut for water and contaminants to enter aquifers. They allow water to enter directly into aquifers with limited interaction with soil and rock that could filter some of the contaminants from the migrating water. Efforts have been made through programs such as the Environmental Farm Plan and the Best Management Practices series to educate farmers and other rural residents about the importance of the proper abandonment of these wells. The proper abandonment of a well ensures that it is no longer a contaminant pathway that could threaten the safety of the aquifer. Wells should be retired in consultation with a licensed well driller to ensure the proper volume and types of materials and techniques are used.

Municipal Well-Head Protection

Farmers should work with municipalities to develop municipal well-head protection strategies that are acceptable to everyone. Where land-use restrictions impact farming operations fair compensation should be promoted.

Best Management Practices to Protect Private Water Supplies

Farmers should use Best Management Practices on their farm and participate in programs like the Environmental Farm Planning exercise to ensure that they are protecting their own water supply.

Irrigation and Permit to Take Water

Permits to Take Water (PTTW) are required by the Ministry of the Environment for circumstances that involve removing more than 50,000 litres of water per day from watershed or groundwater sources. All farmers who withdraw more than 50 000 litres per day, regardless of the source, should be permitted to take water and should ensure that their permit is valid for each year. Farmers should encourage and participate in programs that would help document water budgets for their areas and should co-operate if reductions are found to be necessary by all once the budget is in place. The Ministry of Environment needs to strengthen the PTTW system to ensure that the tools are in place to protect and allocate water as well as resolve water conflict during times of shortage.

Discussion Point

Should the OFA lobby the Ministry of Health (MOH) to maintain a comprehensive database of water quality results obtained by their free bacteria (and nitrate, fluoride) testing. Currently MOH collects this data, but does not provide the information to individuals or agencies. A positive of this collection would be that when a residence changes hands, homeowners could obtain all water quality test results for their new home. A potential negative would be the linking of this database with an enforcing agency.  

Sub Issues

OFA Fact Sheets

Clean Water and Source Water Protection
(June 15, 2011)

Submissions & Correspondence

OFA comments on Low Impact Development (LID) Stormwater Management Guidance Manual
(July 11, 2017)

OFA submission on Canada-Ontario Action Plan for Lake Erie
(May 24, 2017)

OFA submission regarding Ontario policy review of hauled sewage disposal
(May 10, 2017)

OFA comments on Recruiting Ontario's First Chief Science Officer
(March 27, 2017)

OFA submission regarding EBR #012-8783 (regulation establishing a moratorium on permits to take water for water bottling)
(November 23, 2016)

Additional Information

Wellhead Protection Strategies: An Agricultural Perspective
(June 17, 2011)

Water Quality and Small Water Works
(June 8, 2011)

Prioritizing Water Users
(June 6, 2011)


Drought raises stakes for all farmers across the province
(July 27, 2012 - Water)

Ontario farmers take water seriously
(March 22, 2013 - Water)

New rural-urban partnership to protect water quality and support agriculture in the Grand River Watershed
(August 23, 2012 - Water)

Research projects offer farmer-made solutions for the sector
(June 21, 2013 - Water, Land Use Policy & Farmland Preservation, Agri-Food Research, Bioeconomy)

Water policies determine whether farm businesses sink or swim
(September 20, 2013 - Water)

Ontario farmers put food and water first
(August 9, 2013 - Water, Land Use Policy & Farmland Preservation)

OFA reviews Ontario’s Conservation Authorities Act
(September 4, 2015 - Water, Land Use Policy & Farmland Preservation, Environmental)

OFA: Three things we want to see in the provincial budget
(January 22, 2016 - Water, Land Use Policy & Farmland Preservation, Municipal Government, Rural Economic Development, Nutrient Management, Farm Property, Health Care, Farm Labour & Safety, Farm Finance, Taxation, Farm Income, Transportation, Open for Business , Local Food, Natural Gas Infrastructure, Food Literacy, Provincial Funding Transfers to Municipalities )

OFA: Working to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Erie
(April 29, 2016 - Water)

OFA advocacy update at the halfway point of the Liberal mandate
(June 17, 2016 - Water, Land Use Policy & Farmland Preservation, Municipal Government, Rural Economic Development, Farm Property, Environmental, Energy, Waste Management, Wildlife & Wildlife Damage, Business Risk Management, Natural Gas Infrastructure, Climate Change)

Environmentalists and farmers urge Ontario to protect freshwater by putting a deposit on plastic bottles
(February 8, 2017 - Water, Environmental)

New plan reflects commitment to reducing Great Lakes phosphorus levels
(April 27, 2017 - Water)

Speak up for ag this summer
(July 6, 2017 - Water, Rural Economic Development, Environmental, Farm Labour & Safety, Minimum Wage)

Ontario farmers leading efforts to reduce algae blooms in Great Lakes
(June 9, 2017 - Water, Environmental)

New group developing tools to reduce Lake Erie phosphorus
(June 29, 2017 - Water, Environmental)

MPPs spend a day on the farm with OFA
(August 11, 2017 - Water, Rural Economic Development, Environmental, Natural Gas Infrastructure, Minimum Wage)

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