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Source Water Protection

Managing our natural drinking water resources for future generations

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.

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.

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.

Lake Major Watershed Protected Water Area Regulation Engagement

We are looking for feedback from members of the communities in and around this protected water area.

With support from the Board and the Province, Halifax Water will host public engagement sessions to help inform and seek input on potential amendments to these provincially protected water area regulations.

Learn more here

What is Source Water?

Pockwock Tributary 2
Photo Credit: Colin Ragush

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 2 groundwater supply areas (wellheads) [PDF] that together provide drinking water to over 355,000 customers in the Halifax Regional Municipality.


Sampling on Tomahawk
Sampling on Tomahawk

Each year more than 62 water sample sites are monitored, and over 7500 tests are conducted in the source water supply areas to ensure that Halifax's drinking water supplies are as clean and safe as possible. The data collected from these monitoring sites helps to identify the risks to the drinking water supplies. This information is then used to assist staff in making strategic management decisions to reduce or eliminate the risks.

Multiple Barrier Approach Graphic
Multiple Barrier Approach

Source water protection is the first step in Halifax Water's Multiple Barrier Approach, which is 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 that meets the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality and Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Water Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life.

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.


Watershed Cross Section
Courtesy Conservation Ontario

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 thousands of hectares, like the Shubenacadie River watershed that flows from Lake Charles to the Minas Basin, to a few hectares that drain into a pond.

Water knows no boundary, which means that watersheds like the Shubenacadie River may cross municipal boundaries, while others like the St. John River watershed cross provincial and even international boundaries.

Halifax Water Watershed Water Supply Areas

Halifax Water Wellhead Protection Areas

A wellhead protection area 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 minimum 20 year (Zone 3) ToT zone 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 20 plus year well recharge zone 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]

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 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 supplies. 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:

The Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Climate Change is responsible for regulating water utilities under the Environment Act. Under the Act, water utilities may be able to designate an area of 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 Nova Scotia water utilities to manage their drinking water supply areas. Halifax Water is responsible for enforcing regulations in three of the province's designated PWAs.

Halifax Water Designated Watershed Protected Water Supply Areas and Regulations

Pockwock Lake, Lake Major, and Bennery Lake watersheds supply water to 99.95% of Halifax Water's customers. Each of these watersheds have a designated protected water area associated with them. Each PWA has associated regulations under the Nova Scotia Environment Act [PDF].   

    Halifax Water Watershed and Land Areas Map       

The table below compares the recreational activity regulations of Halifax Water's protected water areas, based on some of the most frequently asked questions around what recreational activity may be permitted in these areas.

Table of regulated recreational activities in PWAs

In addition to these provincial designations and regulations, the Halifax Regional Water Commission Act [PDF] restricts activities in the Lake Lemont, Topsail, Long, 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) [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 PWS bylaw zone areas and/or around all water bodies;
  • Placing 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:

  • Dedicated staff to maintain a presence on watershed lands;
  • Comprehensive source water protection plans;
  • Acquisition of watershed lands when possible;
  • Forest management in water supply areas;
  • Monitoring of land use activities;
  • Collection of water samples to identify and monitor potential sources of contaminants;
  • Enforcement of drinking water supply regulations and bylaws;
  • Collaboration with provincial and municipal regulators and other stakeholders including the development of its Best Management Practices [PDF];
  • Engagement of outreach/educational opportunities with the public and other interested parties; and
  • Industry-leading research opportunities.

Community Stakeholders: Keeping Water Clean

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

More information may be found on the Halifax Regional Municipality site under Energy & Environment.

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.

Contact Us


  • 902-420-9287