New Training Center for Operators to Open in Ontario

The Ontario government is setting up a long-awaited facility to coordinate training programs for water system operators, Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky announced last week at the site of Canada's worst E. coli disaster.

"Water systems operators have a very important role in making sure the water we drink is safe. That's why we are creating the Walkerton Clean Water Center. It will ensure training is available and accessible to operators in rural and remote communities and determine the long-term needs of operators,'' Dombrowsky stated in a release.

The center will receive $5 million annually and be chaired by Murray Elston, a former member of the Ontario legislature. Walkerton resident Joseph Heisz will serve as vice-chairman.

The province says creating the center is the first step in fulfilling the last two of 10 training recommendations made by a judicial inquiry into the contaminated water tragedy.

Eight other training recommendations already have been addressed through Ontario's new operator certification and training regulation.

Overall, the inquiry suggested more than 100 measures that should be taken to avoid a repeat of the disaster that killed seven and sickened more than 2,000 people in May 2000 after E. coli was washed into the town's water supply.

The deputy mayor of Brockton, the municipality that includes Walkerton, complained earlier this year about a lack of provincial funds for the project. The former Conservative government of Ernie Eves promised $50 million dollars last year for a water center in the town but no money emerged.

A spokesman for Dombrowsky said Liberal money was expected to begin flowing soon.

The province said it is also giving $978,000 to Brockton, to help cover most of the costs associated with remediating the farming region's water supply and to fund studies to determine the long-term supply strategy.

"Clean water is essential to protect our health,'' Dombrowsky said in a release. "By taking action to keep Ontario's drinking water safe we are protecting our people's health.''

The former manager of the Walkerton Public Utilities Commission and the utility's former foreman admitted to falsifying system records and failing to maintain proper chlorination levels in the system.

Canadian Press

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