Walkerton Impact Still Being Felt

While some of you attend the American Water Works Association’s 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition (ACE07) every year, most water and wastewater industry professionals rarely, if at all, have the chance to attend.

For the latter, those of you unable to attend ACE07, a portion of the May issue of Water & Wastes Digest is dedicated to the latest and most innovative water treatment technology and equipment to be displayed at the event. Our AWWA Product Showcase (see page 46), which stretches over 10 pages, includes approximately 70 product profiles from a wide range of manufacturers exhibiting at ACE07.

Additionally, as part of our ACE07 coverage, this issue highlights the Region of Peel’s Lakeview Water Treatment Plant (see page 42), currently the world’s largest immersed membrane ultrafiltration plant.

In recent years, water treatment plants in North America have been under the microscope following the Walkerton, Ontario, water contamination in 2000 in which seven people died and hundreds become ill after drinking water tainted with E. coli and campylobacter bacteria.

Although the Walkerton incident was devastating to the victims and their families, the event served as a stepping stone for the North American drinking water industry in terms of stricter regulations and technological advancements resulting in safer drinking water for consumers.

As a result, the Ontario Ministry of Environment implemented the Ontario Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure safe drinking water for the province. Unfortunately, it took a crisis to magnify the importance of drinking water for government officials as well as the general public in North America.

Before the Walkerton tragedy, what role did water treatment technology play in the minds of the public? I would venture to guess very little. Why? Because it simply was not that big of a deal—citizens took for granted that they could turn on their tap and clean water would come out.

It’s much different these days. For example, when a water treatment plant holds an official opening ceremony, the general media is on hand to film the event and take photos for feature stories in the local newspapers and news broadcasts—the event, as well as the technology used to treat the water, is significant news.

This was the case in December 2005 when I was invited to the opening ceremony at the city of Port Hope (Ontario) Water Treatment Plant. I must say I was astounded by not only the number of people in attendance—including media, consultants, engineers, government dignitaries and employees of the plant—but also by the large contingency representing the general public that took a vested interest in the plant and also the technology being incorporated to ensure high quality drinking water.

Similarly, the impact of Walkerton is still being felt seven years later and 375 miles away.

Just last month, the city of Cornwall (Ontario) held an opening ceremony marking the completion of the Cornwall Water Purification Plant. Ten million dollars (CAN) was invested in this plant, which includes a UV disinfection system to not only improve drinking water for more than 20,000 households in a rural part of the province, but also to meet the higher levels of drinking water standards demanded by the Ministry of Environment.

You can certainly bet that at some point during that Cornwall ceremony, the dignitaries and local citizens could not help but feel a little safer as drinking water technology has become part of their mainstream consciousness.

For that piece of mind, they can thank the drinking water experts meeting this June for AWWA’s ACE07 in Toronto.

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