New Rules for Ontario Water Wells Spark Concern

Sept. 23, 2003

An Environment Ministry scientist is questioning the safety of 2,000 of rural Ontario's new water wells amid mass confusion in both the ministry and the construction industry over how to interpret a new Conservative government safety regulation, according to a report by James McCarten for the Canadian Press.

Mike Ladouceur, an air scientist with the ministry and spokesperson for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, told McCarten that honest contractors and technicians are being forced to interpret the regulation themselves, while unscrupulous ones are free to cut corners.

"We're about 45 days into the new law, and nobody in the ministry has sent the technicians or the contractors anything with regards to what the substantial changes are in the regulation," Ladouceur said. "It's a train wreck in slow motion, basically."

Some 15,000 new private and municipal wells are drilled or dug in Ontario every year to provide water to about three million rural residents.

Since the regulation took effect on Aug. 1, contractors have drilled or dug approximately 2,000 wells across the province, Ladouceur said.

It's very possible, he added, that some of those wells are susceptible to the kind of leakage that ultimately killed seven people and sickened thousands more in the farming town of Walkerton, Ont., three years ago.

The regulation was intended to address a recommendation by Justice Dennis O'Connor, who presided over the inquiry into the 2000 Walkerton tragedy, that the government enforce drinking water regulations more strictly and provide adequate funding to support them.

Kevin Finnerty, a spokesman for the ministry, said yesterday the extent of the changes has slowed down the process of preparing the technical packages.

The documents are expected to be ready within the next two weeks, while answers to questions that have been submitted to the ministry by contractors and consultants will be ready in about a week, he added.

Steve Sisson, who worked for the ministry as a well inspector until the program was discontinued in 1995, said the new regulations have created a host of potential liability issues for the government.

Sisson now works as a part-time consultant to the industry, and not even ministry officials have been able to explain to him how the new regulations should be interpreted, he said.

"It's a farce," Sisson said.

When he contacted the ministry to clarify the regulation, Sisson said, he was essentially told to ignore it.

"I was told the legislation wasn't written for me, it was written by lawyers, for lawyers," he said. "This same person told me that I could break the law."

Source: The Canadian Press