Supporting safe drinking water for those dependent on private wells
IN THE WAKE of the Walkerton tragedy in Spring 2001, much of the attention focused on improving the safety of municipal drinking water systems, including source water protection in ground and surface water intake zones.
Green Communities developed Well Aware to address a related and equally serious issue: gaps in knowledge and safe well stewardship practices among a third of Ontario households that rely on individual private wells for their drinking water, combined with defects in a large share of private wells not built and maintained to current standards.
Creating effective services and tools for private well stewardship
Well Aware is a private well stewardship program coordinated by Green Communities Canada and delivered by member organizations. Elements include:
- information materials – the Well Aware booklet, factsheets, prompts, website, and a periodic e-newsletter for well owners
- guided self assessments – site visits by trained Water Guide designed to coach well owner in pollution prevention and well maintenance and upgrade issues
- community forums – presentations by expert panelists with opportunities for well owners to get their questions answered
- information provider workshops – workshops with frontline “information providers” to well owners (e.g., realtors, well drillers, municipal staff), to ensure common messaging and accurate information
- outreach – tables, small group presentations, etc.
Working in partnership to maximize effectiveness and minimize overlap
From the outset, Well Aware has been partnership-based. The Well Aware booklet was developed by Green Communities and the Ontario Ground Water Association (Ontario’s association of well drillers), with technical support from the Association of Professional Geoscientists of Ontario (hydrogeologists). The booklet was also reviewed and endorsed by a number of key stakeholders to ensure accuracy, broad agreement about messaging, and credibility.
Additional local partners include municipalities, health units, well drillers and others.
Voluntary participation leads to increased access and impact
Well Aware is voluntary and confidential, which is important for well owners who are hesitant about allowing government employees with regulatory responsibilities onto their land. Well Aware is popular even in areas where ‘landowner rights’ groups are active.
In 2011, the Well Aware booklet and associated materials were put through another round of rigorous review, resulting in an extensively revised new edition. The risk assessment tool used in the guided self assessment was also upgraded.
Working with First Nations to support clean water on reserves
In 2001, we developed a version of the booklet and the program for First Nations, working with the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation, with funding from RBC Blue Water. We are working with at least one other province to roll out a localized version of the program.
Achieving results through effective leadership
As of 2012, Well Aware had racked up some impressive results:
- well owners we have worked with directly: almost 4000
- % who upgrade their wells: 70%
- booklets and kits distributed: over 220,000
- number of community forums: 84, attracting a total audience of 3,000
- number of information provider workshops: 75, for a total of 1900 participants
- website traffic: 30,000 since 2006
A 2008 report by researchers at the University of Waterloo supports the continued need for rural Ontario to learn and take positive actions on Well Aware’s key messages.
Recognition and support
In 2009, Well Aware was recognized by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and CH2M Hill, citing our work with seven municipalities.
In 2011, the Ontario Minister of the Environment recognized the contribution of Well Aware to the Province in connection with the Minister’s annual Award for Environmental Excellence.
Since Well Aware was initiated in 2001, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment has been the primary funder, providing a total of $3.1 million by the end of 2011-12. As government funding has been reduced we are developing fee for service revenues, including paid workshops and guided self-assessments, and partnerships with resident organizations.
In 2012, Well Aware is coordinating a province-wide water testing campaign in partnership with health units, the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors and Public Health Ontario.
protect the source
maintain your well
test your water
plug and seal unused wells
hire a licensed contractor