Dec 28, 2000

Operation Clean Water Aims to Secure Water Safety After Walkerton Deaths

In response to the worst E. coli poisoning outbreak in Canadian history that occurred in May, the provincial government announced Operation Clean Water aimed at simplifying and strengthening water protection laws and policies.

The deadly strain of E. coli bacteria broke out in the Walkerton--a town of 5,000 people 90 miles west of Toronto--water supply utility and lead to the deaths of six people while infecting 2,000 others.

"Our goal is to have the safest water in Canada, with high standards, frequent testing, prompt reporting and tough penalties," said Ontario Premier Mike Harris. "This is the first time in Ontario's history that universal water quality standards and testing have been given the force of law."

The "confused patchwork" of water protection laws and policies cited by Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller in a special report on the Walkerton incident called for leadership by Ontario's environment ministry and for action to safeguard the three million Ontarians who depend on groundwater for drinking water.

Harris and Ontario Environment Minister Dan Newman announced a new provincial regulation to ensure the safety of Ontario's drinking water as part of Operation Clean Water.

It applies to water treatment and distribution systems that currently require approval under the Ontario Water Resources Act including municipal waterworks and other large systems.

The regulation calls for:

• Regular and frequent sampling and testing of water
• Stringent treatment requirements for all drinking water
• Quarterly public water quality reports by large waterworks
• Micro-biological and chemical testing conducted exclusively by accredited laboratories
• Clear requirements for the immediate, person-to-person communication of reports of potentially unsafe water situations to the Ministry of the Environment, the local Medical Officer of Health and the waterworks owner
• Public access to all records of large waterworks

Municipalities must release their first public water quality reports by October 30. Municipalities that violate the rules face fines ranging from $20,000 to $2 million and possible jail sentences.

The provincial government wants full cost pricing for water and sewer services, forcing water users to pay both the daily operating costs of water treatment and the capital costs for long-term repair and upgrading.

This will allow municipalities, often the owners and operators of water systems, to make the necessary investments that will ensure safe drinking water, said Harris.

In the coming days, Ontario's Municipal Affairs Ministry is expected to announce financial support for water and sewer infrastructure to ensure municipalities can comply with the new water regulations.

(Source: Environment News Service)