Ontario Public Health Units to Monitor Water Safety

Under legislative changes announced this week in Ontario, public health units will take over responsibility for monitoring drinking water safety at places such as churches, campgrounds, gas stations and community halls.

Current testing requirements also will be changed. Many smaller operators of non-residential systems had complained the testing requirements were too expensive and even unnecessary.

The existing rules were implemented following the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton, Ont., five years ago that killed seven people and sickened 2,500 others.

"The old regulation was a sad attempt to quickly fix years of neglect," Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky said in a statement. "By not consulting with stakeholders, the new rules often made things worse, especially in small communities."

It will be up to health units to assess the safety of the water supply, as well as to develop specific plans for each site based on the contamination risks.

This will apply to all drinking water systems serving non-residential and seasonal uses.

Public health units now will be able to recover costs by charging inspection fees, between $250 and $375 per year.

The rules under the province's Safe Drinking Water Act include basic requirements for testing, reporting and taking corrective action. Only microbiological testing is now required and owners will not have to install costly treatment equipment if their water is deemed safe.

If bacteria is found in the water, owners and municipalities will still be required to report the results to the local health unit and the ministry, and then take necessary remedial action.

In addition, small municipalities will be allowed to post warning signs instead of testing water at venues such as community halls and baseball diamonds.

In all such cases, municipalities will no longer be required to report annually to consumers about drinking water quality.

The Environment Ministry will continue to regulate the systems until oversight responsibilities are transferred to public health officials in the fall of 2006.

Canadian Press

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