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Protected Water Areas

Preserving our natural drinking water resources for future generations

Everything we do affects the health of the groundwater, streams, rivers and oceans that make up our source water supplies. When it rains; soil, pet waste, yard waste, pesticides, fertilizers, salt, oil/grease, litter and other pollutants get washed into the storm drains that empty into our lakes and rivers.

Protecting source water is one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to ensure public health protection while maintaining our water resources for us and our environment.

We encourage you to read on to learn what the province, municipal units and Halifax Water do to protect our water supply; and what community stakeholders - businesses, residents and visitors alike - can do to ensure that Halifax's drinking water supply is as clean and safe as possible.

What is Source Water?

Source water refers to the lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater where our drinking water comes from.

The goal of source water protection is to maintain or improve the quality of drinking water before it reaches the water supply plant and eventually our taps.

Source Water Areas

You can view the Source Water Areas map in a new browser window.

Testing and Monitoring Our Water Sources

Keeping water clean is the most effective way to sustain our drinking water resources for future generations.

Halifax Water manages 9 surface water supply areas (watersheds) and 3 groundwater supply areas (wellheads) that together provide drinking water to over 355,000 customers in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Each year more than 132 water samples are collected, and nearly 2,000 tests are conducted on the source water supply to ensure that Halifax's drinking water supply is as clean and safe as possible. These samples and tests provide the data used to help identify risks to local drinking water supply sources and develop strategies to reduce or eliminate the risks.

Source Water protection is the first step in Halifax Water's Multiple Barrier Approach, a series of checks and balances to produce high-quality water from the water source to the customer's tap and back to the source.

What Are Watershed and Wellhead Areas?

Every ocean, lake, river and stream is connected to a watershed. We all live, work and play in a watershed; from big city streets to small town backyards and from forests to farms.

A watershed is an area of land where all water drains into a common water body such as a lake or ocean or is absorbed back into the ground through groundwater recharge (wellhead areas). Watersheds vary in shape and size from millions of acres, like the St. John River Valley watershed in New Brunswick, which drains into the Bay of Fundy, to a few acres that drain into a pond.

Water knows no boundary, which means that watersheds like the St. John River's may cross municipal, provincial and even international borders.

Halifax Water Watershed Water Supply Areas

  • Located west of Northwest Arm Drive in Halifax, and serves as the emergency back-up water supply for the regions served by Pockwock Lake;
  • Approximately 217 hectares in size;
  • Over 95% owned and managed jointly by Halifax Water and the Crown; and
  • Is not designated, but protected by the Halifax Regional Water Commission Act [PDF] and Halifax Regional Municipality policies and bylaws.
  • Chain Lakes Source Water Protection Plan [PDF]
  • Part of the former water supply for the Dartmouth area and now serves as the emergency back-up water supply for the regions served by Lake Major;
  • Encompasses around 368 hectares, and is located in the heart of Dartmouth, north of Highway 7;
  • Over 90% owned and managed by Halifax Water; and
  • Is not designated, but protected by the Halifax Regional Water Commission Act [PDF] and Halifax Regional Municipality policies and bylaws.
  • Lake Lemont Source Water Protection Plan under review.
  • Encompasses approximately 33,300 hectares, with a main channel of over 25 km in length.
  • The Middle Musquodoboit Watershed Source Water Protection Plan is under review.
Halifax Water Wellhead Protection Areas

A wellhead protection area (WHPA) is the surface and subsurface area surrounding a water well that is supplying a public water system, through which contaminants are likely to move toward and reach.

Time of travel zones

Wellhead areas are subdivided into three groundwater time-of-travel (ToT) zones for the purposes of source water protection planning and management. The delineation of these wellhead protection areas represent graduated levels of concern based on a calculated maximum time for a biological or chemical groundwater contaminant to reach the wellhead and are based on two-year (Zone 1), five-year (Zone 2) and total (variable) (Zone 3) ToT zones levels as defined below:

  • Zone 1 is the two-year ToT zone that represents the greatest area of concern for protection from biological and chemical contaminants;
  • Zone 2 is the 5-year ToT zone that represents the second-greatest area of concern for protection; and
  • Zone 3 is the well recharge zone that represents the entire land area contributing to the aquifer relative to the wellhead location. This zone has been delineated for wellhead protection against persistent, mobile water quality contaminants.

Five Island Lake Wellhead Protection Area

  • Serves as the water supply to approximately 10 customer connections in the Hubley/Five Island Lake area; and
  • Encompasses approximately 135 hectares.

Five Island Wellhead Source Water Protection Plan [PDF]

Miller Lake Wellhead Protection Area

  • Serves as the water supply to approximately 45 customer connections in the Fall River/Miller Lake area; and
  • Encompasses approximately 232 hectares;

Miller Lake Wellhead Source Water Protection Plan under review.

Silver Sands Wellhead Protection Area

  • Serves as the water supply for approximately 40 connections in the Eastern Passage/Cow Bay area; and
  • Covers an area of approximately 300 hectares.

Silver Sands Wellhead Source Water Protection Plan [PDF]

Source Water Protectors: Keeping Clean Water Clean

By working together we can keep contaminants out of waterways to keep water clean. Halifax Water relies on a number of approaches and municipal and provincial agencies to help protect Halifax Regional Municipality's public water supply resources. The management tools employed and agencies empowered to help protect our water supply are described under the following headings:

The Province's Role In Water Protection:

Nova Scotia Environment (NSE) is responsible for regulating Water Utilities under the Environment Act. Under the Act, water utilities may  be able to designate a water supply as a Protected Water Area (PWA) upon request and regulate activities that may impair source water quality. This is the most stringent form of governance available to water utilities, and is designed to assist them in managing their drinking water supply areas. For example, Halifax Water is responsible for regulating activities in three designated PWAs; i.e., Pockwock Lake, Lake Major and Bennery Lake, which supply water to 99.95% of Halifax Water customers. Many of the regulated activities to help protect these watershed areas are described below.

Designated Watershed Protected Water Supply Areas and Regulations

Pockwock Lake, Lake Major, and Bennery Lake have watershed areas that are designated Protected Water Areas under the Nova Scotia Environment Act [PDF]. As designated watershed Protected Water Supply areas, each has its own set of regulations under the Act, which Halifax Water is responsible for managing, as outlined in the following table:


Regulated Activities: Bennery Lake Major Pockwock
Boating R R R
Swimming X R X
Hunting R R R
Fishing X R X
Open Fires R R R
Cutting Ice X R X
Construction R R R
Waste Disposal X X X
Motorized Vehicles R R X
Pesticide Use R R X
Forestry R R R


R-Regulated      X-Prohibited

In addition to the provincial designations and regulations, the Halifax Regional Water Commission Act [PDF] restricts activities in the Lake Lamont, Chain Lakes, and Tomahawk Lake water supply areas.

The Municipal Units' Role in Water Protection:

Recognizing that water knows no boundaries, the Municipal Government Act (MGA)'s [PDF] Statement of Provincial Interest Respecting Drinking Water requires municipal units to identify and address protection of all municipal drinking water supplies within their plan area.

The MGA also provides municipal units with the power to make bylaws to protect drinking water supply areas. In the Halifax Municipality, for example, the Regional Plan outlines the policies from which zoning bylaws are enabled to protect municipal drinking water supplies such as:

  • Delineating Protected Water Supply (PWS) bylaw zones (independent of a provincial PWA area);
  • Requiring setbacks from watercourses and/or creating riparian buffers in Protected Water Supply (PWS) bylaw zone areas and/or around all water bodies;
  • Restrictions on phosphorus loading for new development; and
  • Prohibiting activities that may put a water supply at risk.

Halifax Water's Role in Water Protection:

Halifax Water uses the multiple barrier approach to ensure safe drinking water is delivered to its customers, from source to tap.

To ensure clean and safe drinking water, Halifax Water's Source Water Protection Program implements the following:

  • Dedicates staff to maintain a presence on watershed lands;
  • Develops, maintains and implements comprehensive source water protection plans;
  • Purchases watershed lands when feasible;
  • Manages forests in water supply areas;
  • Monitors land use activities;
  • Collects water samples to identify and monitor potential sources of contaminants;
  • Enforces drinking water supply regulations and bylaws;
  • Collaborates with provincial and municipal regulators and other stakeholders including the development of its Best Management Practices [PDF]; and
  • Engages in outreach/educational opportunities with the public and other interested parties.

Community Stakeholders: Keeping Clean Water Clean

To mitigate the impacts from business activities conducted within water supply areas, Halifax Water has an evolving document of Best Management Practices (BMPs) [PDF] for heavy equipment use, fuelling, construction, maintenance, forest management and emergency response to protect source water by mitigating impacts to water supply areas.

More information may be found at HRM's Energy & Environment website.

Halifax Water Partnerships

Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.

Halifax Water has developed geocaching guidelines [PDF] in cooperation with the Atlantic Canada Geocaching Association.

These Guidelines facilitate safe and low-impact use of Halifax Water watershed lands by geocachers, while ensuring the protection of the quality of Halifax Water managed resources.

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  • 902-420-9287