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Many small, rural water systems in Ontario would be regulated on a site-specific, risk-based approach overseen by local public health units under revised drinking water regulations proposed this month by the Ministry of the Environment.
Based on recommendations from an advisory council that consulted with stakeholders regarding implementation of strengthened safe water regulations adopted following the deadly waterborne disease outbreak in Walkerton five years ago, the revised rule aims to improve cost-effectiveness and efficiency of ensuring safe water in systems serving nonresidential and seasonal residents.
"By not consulting with stakeholders, the new rules often made things worse, especially in small communities," said Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky. "By listening to rural residents, we now have an approach that will ensure drinking water safety without requiring unnecessary tests and treatment systems. We consulted extensively and, overwhelmingly, we heard a clear preference for public health units to oversee these systems. We will be investing in public health units to help them take over this responsibility and hire and train new inspectors."
Dombrowsky said the revised rule also reflects recommendations from the Advisory Council on Drinking Water Quality and Testing Standards by keeping municipal and private water systems that provide water to year-round residents and certain designated facilities subject to requirements of the original Regulation 170 as overseen by the Environment Ministry.
Noting that the changes cover systems that otherwise would have needed to meet Regulation 170 requirements by June 1, Dombrowsky said the new regulatory framework for systems to be overseen by public health units will include charges for inspections, collected through user fees.
Jim Merritt, chair of the advisory council, said the recommended changes still ensure compliance with water quality standards "but in a more practical manner. In fact, the requirements for a particular system may even go as far as being more stringent than the current regulation, depending on the outcome of the site-specific risk evaluation process."