York Region water is safe, reliable, clean, affordable, convenient.
Water continues to be one of most affordable utilities in Ontario. This brochure as well as the following videos, explain how your water dollars are invested.
Have a question about York Region water? We have answers.
Where does our water come from?
York Region provides clean, safe, reliable drinking water to more than one million people. It originates from three sources: Lake Ontario, Lake Simcoe and groundwater wells within York Region. The majority (approximately 80 per cent) comes from Lake Ontario via the City of Toronto and the Region of Peel who sell treated water under long-term contracts. The lake water is pumped north to York Region through large water mains. The Town of Georgina is supplied by two intakes in Lake Simcoe. The remainder of York Region’s needs are supplied by 40 wells scattered throughout the Region. Some of this is blended with lake water. Water is distributed to our municipalities through a network of 344 kilometres of water mains. The municipalities then deliver it to users and collect money for both the supply of water and the treatment of wastewater. Some residents get their water from private wells located on their own properties.
How are York Region’s various water supplies combined?
Lake Simcoe water is used only in the Town of Georgina. The rest of York Region's supply, including water from Lake Ontario and groundwater wells, is blended in reservoirs, water towers and distribution pipes. Pumping stations help move our water between reservoirs, up towers, and ultimately to end users. (Many pumping stations located in newer residential developments are disguised as houses to blend in aesthetically.)
If we could look underground, what would we see?
Geologically, the ground under York Region resembles a layer cake. Between the surface and bedrock is an average of approximately 200 metres of sand, gravel, clay and glacial till, deposited over the past 10,000 years. Some layers, known as “aquifers” hold water. Others, such as clay, are called “aquitards” because they impede the flow of water.
Generally, the underground water used in York Region is from aquifers, approximately 100 metres deep. Isotope testing has shown some samples of this water to be thousands of years old.
Under York Region’s roads is the human-built infrastructure that supplies drinking water and transports wastewater to the treatment plants. Large water mains, up to 1,800 mm (six feet) in diameter bring water from the City Toronto and the Region of Peel to York Region. Smaller pipes move water from reservoirs and water towers. The pipes get smaller - down to 150 to 300 mm (6 to 12 inches) - under residential streets, and smaller still - 13 to 19 mm (half-inch to three-quarter-inch) - between the streets and end users.
Will our groundwater last?
With prudent management, our groundwater will last. It will recharge indefinitely unless use exceeds the natural recharge rate. Aquifers can be drained when too many residents and businesses draw on the supply. The risk to water supply can be increased if rainwater recharge is impaired. This happens when the paving of important recharge areas causes rainwater to flow into streams and away from underground aquifers. The York Region Official Plan includes policies to protect recharge.
York Region operates groundwater production wells under Ministry of Environment and Climate Change permits that allow pre-determined sustainable volumes of water to be drawn from the ground. Sustainable volumes of water are determined using monitoring data and sophisticated computer models. York Region currently monitors water levels in more than 180 wells located throughout the Region as part of the water resource management programs.
Although aquifer levels fluctuate in York Region, they have been generally stable in recent years. This indicates aquifer use is balanced with recharge. It helps that the aquifers York Region uses for groundwater supply are generally deep, well protected and resilient. In areas where the groundwater resource is not sufficient to meet demand, York Region has introduced lake water supply in an effort to effectively manage the groundwater resources.
Is our water supply at risk?
All sources of water are at risk if not protected. York Region is vigilant about protection and this protection is thorough and comprehensive.
The most common risk to our water is contamination from handling, storage and use of degreasers, pesticides, salt, fertilizer, human and animal waste, fuel oil, gas and solvents. In addition to policies stipulating how to use and dispose of these substances responsibly, we also have an active education and awareness program about the importance of proper use and disposal of chemicals.
Road salt poses a risk to plants, animals and the aquatic environment. Chloride, one of the two component parts of road salt, can get into streams and groundwater. York Region has approximately 4,093 lane kilometres of paved arterial roads where snow removal involves anti-icing brine application, salting and sanding. The Salt Management Plan is reviewed and updated regularly to minimize the amount of salt entering the environment.
How is our water protected?
If development is not properly planned and managed, it can affect the quality and quantity of our water in ways such as: inhibiting groundwater recharge when land is paved and through the improper handling and storage of chemicals. Most vulnerable are York Region’s 40 groundwater wells and two Lake Simcoe intakes. Planners and Risk Management Officials make sure industries handling toxic chemicals are not located near municipal production wells or lake intakes.
York Region works with businesses, farms, area municipalities, the provincial government and residents to:
- Define wellhead protection areas for all municipal water supply wells
- Monitor the quality and quantity of groundwater
- Treat wastewater to make it safe for reintroduction into the environment
- Review development applications to ensure drinking water sources are protected
- Negotiate risk management plans with business owners and farmers
York Region has contributed to an approved source protection plan that is effective July 1, 2015 (for the South Georgian Bay Lake Simcoe Source Protection Region) and a plan which will likely be in effect in 2016 (for the Credit Valley, Toronto and Region and Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority [CTC] Source Protection Region) pending approval by the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. These plans build on our existing protective policies. Two key improvements: more incompatible activities will be regulated and prohibited near production wells and lake intakes, and protection of all vulnerable groundwater areas will be increased.
How can citizens help protect our water?
Residents and businesses in York Region can help keep water safe by:
- Maintaining septic systems
- Minimizing the use of pesticides, fertilizers and de-icing salt
- Storing fuels properly
- Taking household hazardous waste to one of York Region’s household hazardous waste depots for disposal (and refraining from pouring down the drain)
Landowners, including farmers, can apply for funding for projects that protect water through the Landowner Environmental Assistance Program (LEAP) in the Lake Simcoe watershed and the Rural Clean Water Program in the Toronto and Region watershed.
York Region’s Water for Tomorrow program promotes water conservation. Initiatives include:
- Youth education programs such as the York Children’s Water Festival
- Peak-demand-reduction programs, including the use and promotion of outdoor landscape practices that reduce the need for potable water
- Free seminars for residents on water-efficient landscaping
- Promotional campaigns encouraging conservation
- Partnerships with service sectors like irrigation contractors to reduce water demand
How have attitudes about the protection of our water changed?
Attitudes about protection have improved considerably since the 1980s and 1990s.
Business is far more proactive today. Developers, for example, often voluntarily conduct post-development recharge studies to demonstrate healthy groundwater recharge levels. In most industries, containment management plans for storage and handling of hazardous waste are routine.
Illegal dumping of solvents and other hazardous substances has dropped dramatically. There are a number of reasons for this. Penalties have increased. Management plans, which stipulate proper waste handling, are being voluntarily offered by industrial businesses. Meetings between the Region and business owners have opened productive dialogue. People are generally recognizing not only the need to do the right thing, but also how to do it.
How is our water treated?
Water purchased from the City of Toronto and the Region of Peel – approximately 80 per cent of York Region’s total supply – comes pre-treated with chlorine, an effective bactericide. The treated water is integrated with the Region’s other supplies and further chlorinated if necessary.
Water from the 40 Regional wells is also treated with chlorine to kill bacteria and other microorganisms that might be present. Ammonia is also added to some supplies. The combined treatment is called “chloramination”.
Water from Lake Simcoe undergoes multi-stage treatment at the Keswick and Georgina Water Treatment Plants. At the Georgina Water Treatment Plant, an intake pipe extends into the lake to draw water to the plant. Screens are in place to remove debris. Raw lake water is then passed through ultra-fine membranes that remove virtually all contaminants, including viruses. The water then passes through ultraviolet light reactors that destroy any remaining bacteria, then through activated-carbon filter beds that take out any lingering taste and odour-causing molecules. Finally, a chlorine residual is added to protect the water from bacteria that might reside in pipes during its journey to users.
How safe is our water?
York Region drinking water is safe. In the thousands of tests conducted in 2014, the Region’s drinking water was within regulations 99.96 per cent of the time. Additionally, 15 drinking water system inspections were carried out in 2014 by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, confirming the safety of our supply.
How is water safety monitored?
York Region’s drinking water must meet high quality standards legislated by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. The standards identify more than 100 criteria for safe consumption limits, based on medical research. They are revised when findings or concerns change.
In 2014, York Region conducted 36,817 water-safety tests and 64 facility audits. In all cases, York Region met or exceeded Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change requirements.
Collected samples are sent to a lab for a complete analysis to check for organic chemicals, pesticides, trichloroethylene, radiation and many other toxins.
We also test continually to ensure that the disinfectant chemicals added to York Region’s drinking water are at proper levels. Online analyzers record those levels on a second-by-second basis. An operational team does further testing at all facilities to verify the results.
Is fluoride added to York Region drinking water?
Yes, fluoride is added to most York Region drinking water.
A mineral found naturally in our environment, fluoride has been proven to prevent tooth decay. More than 90 national and international professional health organizations, including the Canadian Dental Association, support using fluoride to help prevent dental cavities.
Fluoride levels throughout the Region vary depending on the drinking water source. Water sampling indicates all sources are safe and consistently well below maximum recommended levels of 0.6 to 0.8 ppm.
In the Town of Georgina, only Keswick, Sutton, and the lake communities in between currently receive fluoridated drinking water. Other communities in the area do not. The City of Markham and the City of Vaughan, the Town of Richmond Hill, and the Township of King are supplied with fluoridated water through connection to the water systems of the City of Toronto and the Region of Peel (Toronto has been fluoridating its water since 1963). Blended surface and groundwater supplies serve the Towns of Aurora, Newmarket, Whitchurch-Stouffville, and parts of East Gwillimbury. The mixed sources of water for these communities results in drinking water that is slightly below the 0.6 to 0.8 ppm fluoride concentration range.
Should I drink tap water or bottled water?
York Region provides high quality drinking water that is safe, clean and affordable.
From a cost standpoint, bottled water is dramatically more expensive. One litre of tap water costs about $0.001. A litre of bottled water costs about $1.50.
Should I be treating water in my home?
In York Region, home water treatment is a choice by some residents, not a need. There are no health reasons to treat water at home. That being said, many people choose to use water filters to remove chlorine and softeners to remove hardness.
What is the “UYSS” project”?
UYSS is the acronym for Upper York Sewage Solutions. An environmental assessment process began in 2009 with the goal of identifying the best methods of providing additional sewage servicing capacity in the fast-growing communities in upper York Region, including the Town of Aurora, the Town of Newmarket, and the communities of Holland Landing, Queensville, and Sharon in the Town of East Gwillimbury.
After five years and much public consultation, UYSS has reached the planning stage for a proposed new state-of-the-art “water reclamation centre”. A first of its kind in Ontario, the centre will use a double-membrane system that renders wastewater so clean it will be beneficial for fish and plants.
The new centre will handle wastewater only from within the Lake Simcoe watershed.
What is York Region doing to keep costs down?
York Region carefully maintains our infrastructure in an effort to avoid repair bills.
In addition, there are a number of programs designed to save money, including energy and water conservation programs. York Region’s Water for Tomorrow program has helped save 26 million litres of water per day, or enough to supply 126,000 people. Because delivering water to more than one-million people requires large amounts of energy, the estimated energy savings from the Water for Tomorrow program is significant and works out to an estimated savings of more than $650,000 annually. When water use is reduced (and thus wastewater treatment), energy – and money – are saved.
York Region looks for these efficiencies every year as part of the budget process. Energy audits of water and wastewater facilities are conducted to minimize energy use and optimize operating efficiency. An analysis is done of peak-demand to determine if equipment can be taken offline to save power. Solar photovoltaic panels are mounted on the roofs of some facilities. The renewable energy produced by these solar panels generate revenue for the Region.
How much does it cost York Region to supply water?
In 2015, York Region budgeted approximately $460 million to supply drinking water and treat wastewater so it can re-enter the environment. Most of the budget covers the annual operating cost of running the system, purchased water from the City of Toronto and the Region of Peel, salaries of staff, debt retirement and funds set aside for future needs.
York Region supplies water to local municipalities, who in turn supply residents and businesses. As of 2015, York Region owns and maintains approximately $5.3 billion of water and wastewater assets including the following individual infrastructure components or facilities:
- Three water treatment plants
- 40 wells
- 344 kilometres of water mains
- 44 storage facilities
- 22 water pumping stations
- Eight water resource recovery facilities including Duffin Creek Plant
- 322 kilometres of wastewater pipes
- 19 wastewater pumping stations
- Two wastewater equalization tanks
To serve the Region’s rapid growth, capital expenditures for new infrastructure and rehabilitation projects will be approximately $2.2 billion over the next 10 years.
What do water rates pay for?
York Region residents pay a blended rate that funds the supply of drinking water and treatment of wastewater.
The water system is fully funded by water rates. There is no profit on water or HST charged on rates.
Reserve funds are continually being set aside for planned investments in years to come. With adequate reserves, York Region will not need to borrow money and pay interest to replace and repair infrastructure.
York Region’s goal is full cost recovery. That means operating and capital rehabilitation and replacement costs are financed through rate revenues. Full cost recovery entails charging a water rate sufficient to operate the system and to keep it in a good state of repair.
Why are rates different in the various municipalities of York Region and how different are they?
Rates differ based on budgeting and financial reserves. Some municipalities might have more reserves and therefore, have less of a need to increase rates. Others might be building their reserve fund for future growth and repairs. Other factors, such as the density and size of a community can also play a role. Denser and larger communities are able to spread costs over a larger customer base.
What is York Region’s role?
The main role of York Region, as a Regional municipality and as required under provincial legislation, is to act as a wholesale provider of water and wastewater services to the local municipalities.
These responsibilities reside within the Environmental Services department, which is guided by specific goals and principles to ensure it meets its operating, capital, regulatory and financial requirements:
In acting as the wholesale provider of drinking water, York Region:
- Purchases water from the Region of Peel and the City of Toronto, which together supply more than 85 per cent of York Region’s total municipal drinking water need;
- Works with these municipalities on joint initiatives to ensure the adequacy of supply, for example through sharing the costs of capital projects and carrying out studies on how to optimize system performance;
- Operates and maintains 40 groundwater production wells and two surface-water treatment plants for the balance of the drinking-water demand; and
- Provides and delivers drinking water through 22 pumping stations, 44 elevated water tanks and reservoirs, and 344 kilometres of transmission mains.
The long-term arrangements with Peel and Toronto are necessary because York Region is unique among the cities and Regions in the Greater Toronto Area in that it lacks direct access to Lake Ontario.
In its role as a wholesale provider of wastewater services, York Region:
- Collects wastewater from the local municipalities and conveys it to treatment plants through a system of 322 kilometres of sewer pipe, 19 pumping stations and two wastewater equalization tanks
- Manages the operation and maintenance of the Duffin Creek Water Pollution Control Plant in Pickering, which is jointly owned with Durham Region and which treats about 85 per cent of the Region’s wastewater
- Manages an agreement with the Region of Peel for the treatment of roughly a further 10 per cent of the Region’s wastewater
- Operates and maintains seven wholly-owned water resource recovery facilities, mainly in the northern part of the region, that treat the balance of York Region’s wastewater
How do water and wastewater costs compare to an average household income?
The 2014 Municipal Benchmarking Study compared water and wastewater costs as a percentage of household income across participating Ontario municipalities. In every municipality in York Region, water and wastewater costs ranked as “low,” at less than one per cent on average of household income:
Water is also typically a household’s lowest utility cost, lower than telephone, electricity, gas or oil.
Why do water costs increase?
Many costs related to water and wastewater continue to grow. Inflation increases most costs, as it does with every day goods and services. Population growth and government regulations further increase costs, as does the need to increase our reserve funds.
Without adequate reserves, there is a tendency to delay investments. This can negatively affect every part of the system, from monitoring the safety and integrity of water to protecting groundwater and treating wastewater. When infrastructure gets worn out or has to be dramatically improved to meet provincial standards, the cost can suddenly be very high, which means borrowing money and paying interest charges. Maintaining infrastructure is more prudent and less expensive to taxpayers over the long term.
Does it pay for me to conserve water?
It does pay to conserve water. When you use less water you pay less in water and wastewater charges.
There are many ways for residents to conserve water. Installing aerators on faucets, for example, can save approximately 3.5 litres of water per minute. Low-flow shower heads use about 7.57 litres per minute or about 60 per cent less water than a standard shower head. They can reduce hot water use by approximately 15 per cent, which saves on energy charges. With toilets, switching from an older model to a newer one using 4.8 litres of water saves about 41 litres of water per person per day.
Outdoors, an average garden hose uses approximately 34 litres of water each minute. Many people use rain barrels to collect rainwater for their gardens. Sweeping your driveway rather than hosing it is also a money-saving strategy. For more tips on how to save, read our Water Efficiency At Home Guide.
How do developers contribute?
Developers provide funds for the water and wastewater system in two ways: through development charges and by building some of the infrastructure needed to service their developments.
Development charges fund the infrastructure needed for growth, including water and wastewater treatment, piping, pumping and water storage facilities.
Development charges are paid by home buyers as part of the price of their new homes. Developers collect the charge on behalf of the Region or municipality. A portion of these fees is used to finance the infrastructure needed to service the new development.
How is water pressure maintained so evenly?
Ontario’s guidelines require drinking water systems be kept at a minimum pressure of 275 kPa (a kilopascal of pressure, roughly 40 pounds per square inch). In York Region, that pressure is maintained with 21 pumping stations throughout our system and by water towers exerting the pressure of gravity. Electronic monitoring throughout the system confirms steady pressure. Local power failures or maintenance issues can cause temporary drops in pressure, but these are rare.
Why do we have water towers?
Water towers are large elevated tanks constructed on high points of land and built to heights that ensure gravity will create the necessary pressure to reliably deliver drinking water to residents and businesses. York Region's 29 water towers are between 26.85 and 50.25 metres tall, with an average height of 36.54 metres. Each metre provides 9.807 kPa of pressure or just over 392 pounds per square inch.
Water towers are essential to the water supply system in three ways: to equalize pressure, to provide large volumes of water when needed for fire-fighting, and to provide an emergency supply if catastrophe occurs.
Towers continually equalize pressure by adding pressurized water to the system at times of peak use. This enables municipalities to save money by sizing pumps and pumping stations for average rather than peak use.
The storage tanks at the top of water towers can be very large. The two largest tanks in York Region are Richmond Hill’s Bloomington and Coon elevated tanks, each holding 7,550 cubic metres of water. All York Region elevated tanks are designed to hold approximately one-to-two days’ supply of water for the households and businesses served by the tower.
How does the stormwater system differ from the wastewater system?
The stormwater system is a sewer system under our streets. Storm drains channel rain and melted snow from roofs, streets, parking lots and other paved areas to storm water holding ponds and into our creeks, rivers and lakes without treatment.
The wastewater system carries used water from homes, schools and businesses to water resource recovery facilities. After treatment, this water is safe to re-enter the environment.
Once water goes down my drain, where does it go?
The drains and toilet pipes in homes and businesses carry wastewater into large underground sewers. With the help of gravity and pumping stations, this used water is moved to water resource recovery facilities.
The wastewater from approximately 80 per cent of York Region is treated at the Duffin Creek Water Resource Recovery Facility on Lake Ontario east of Toronto. After treatment, that wastewater re-enters Lake Ontario. The communities of Mount Albert, Schomberg, Nobleton, Kleinburg, Holland Landing, Sutton and Keswick have their own water resource recovery facilities. Treated wastewater from those plants is returned to Lake Simcoe.
In all cases, the water entering the lakes is treated in keeping with strict environmental standards, regulated by the Province. It is returned cleaner than the raw water taken from the lake.
What are the main components of our water distribution system?
Water distribution systems are primarily made up of water transmission mains, narrower pipes that split off those mains, valves, pumping stations, storage tanks and reservoirs. Water is delivered from treatment plants or wells to consumers.
York Region operates a “trunk” distribution system, mainly consisting of large trunk lines and 162 individual facilities such as pumping stations and reservoirs. The local municipalities deliver water from our mains to homes, businesses and schools within their jurisdictions. They own and maintain those parts of the system.
How old is the York Region water system and is it in good shape?
A 2011 analysis showed more than 60 per cent of York Region’s water-related infrastructure is less than 25 years old. That is considered “young” compared to more established cities like Toronto and Hamilton. As for its condition, the Region’s water infrastructure earned an A grading in the 2013 York Region State of Infrastructure Report.
However, water infrastructure does break down over time. If you live in a century-old house anywhere in Ontario, chances are the pipes under the ground are the same age as the house (unless they have been replaced). While infrastructure of that age can still be functional, it might need replacement. Cracks, leaking joints, and broken sections can allow stormwater to enter the wastewater system. Infiltration of this kind is an added burden on treatment plants and should be fixed when discovered.
How has the water system changed over the years?
The biggest change in the York Region water and wastewater system has been its expansion. When York Region incorporated in 1971, the population was approximately 170,000. Today, there are more than one million residents. Naturally, such growth requires many more kilometres of pipes and sewers, as well as pumping stations, reservoirs and water towers.
As of 2015, York Region operated and maintained 209 water and wastewater infrastructure assets, including:
- Wastewater (47)
- Odour control (4)
- Sewage disposal (1)
- Sewage meter chamber (13)
- Sewage pumping station (19)
- Storage equalization tank (2)
- Water Resource Recovery Facilities (7)
- Water (162)
- Control valve chamber (12)
- Ground water wells and treatment (40)
- Intake structure (2)
- Storage at grade (4)
- Storage elevated tank (29)
- Storage reservoir (11)
- Water meter chamber (41)
Pipe materials have also changed. Large water mains are now made of concrete and are able to withstand significant pressure. Smaller mains are built with polymer pipes, including polyvinyl chloride and high-density polyethylene.
Will we have enough water in the future?
Yes. Every five years, through the Water and Wastewater Master Plan process, we look 40 years ahead to predict how much water our communities will need and where it will come from. Our long-term water supply agreements with the City of Toronto and the Region of Peel and our strong groundwater protection plans and practices ensures the Region has sustainable water supplies.
How is York Region planning for the future?
We update the Water and Wastewater Master Plan every five years, estimating population growth and the infrastructure needed to serve it.
The Region’s 2015 Ten-Year Capital Plan includes $222 million for building and maintaining a range of water infrastructure, including pumping stations, storage facilities, surface water treatment plants and linear infrastructure (pipes).
What growth is expected in York Region?
York Region’s current population is approximately 1.1 million. By the year 2041, it is predicted the Region will have 1.79 million residents (and approximately 900,000 jobs). These estimates are provided by the Province of Ontario through the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
We want to hear from you!
Submit your question today to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check back often as we publish new frequently asked questions and answers.
The Water Is campaign increases public awareness about the importance and value of water
York Region is committed to providing safe, reliable, clean, affordable and convenient drinking water. York Region is also committed to explaining how our vast and complex water system works.
The Water Is campaign reveals how our hidden water system functions, why it’s important and how we are all connected to it. This enhanced understanding of water will:
- Empower people to become leaders in their communities and advocates of water conservation
- Inspire people to get involved with efforts to protect and improve the quality of our lakes and streams for now and for future generations
- Media Release: Turning the tap on financial stability
- Media Release: York Region recognized as Environmental Champion
- Find information on the Lake Simcoe kids book Do Fish Fart? And 200 more amazing questions and answers about Lake Simcoe
- Water is Hidden brochure (for print)
- Water is Moving article
- Water is Protected article
- Media Release, March 26, 2015: York Region achieves 100 per cent on Chief Drinking Water Inspector’s Annual Report