New rules came into effect in Ontario on December 31 that make those with decision-making authority over drinking water systems personally liable for their safe operation.
This "Statutory Standard of Care" came into force as Section 19, part of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The decision-making authorities — which include municipal councillors as well as their third-party contractors — have to ensure that their plant is operated in accordance with regulations, is appropriately staffed and supervised, and that it meets all the sampling, testing and reporting requirements.
In a guide for municipal councillors: "Taking Care of Your Drinking Water," the Ontario Ministry of the Environment points out that municipal councillors are still personally liable for their water systems, "even if there is an agreement to delegate the operations of the drinking water system to someone else" (page 7).
The guide points out that those with decision-making authority over municipal drinking water systems have "to exercise the level of care, diligence and skill ... that a reasonably prudent person would be expected to exercise in a similar situation and that they exercise this due diligence honestly, competently and with integrity."
The guide says the legal responsibility applies to not only the municipality who owns the system, but "every person who oversees the accredited operating authority or exercises decision-making authority over the system — potentially including but not limited to members of municipal councils. If the municipal system is owned by a corporation rather than a municipality, every officer and director of the corporation has the legal responsibility to ensure the plant is performing up to par.
The Ministry is advising municipal councillors to "be informed, ask questions, get answers." Training courses for municipal officers are available at the Walkerton Clean Water Centre.
To see the guide, click here.