The second part of the Walkerton Inquiry Commission’s report was released last week. This valuable document is as well written and clear as the report’s Part I released in January. That first part dealt with the causes of the Walkerton drinking water tragedy in 2000. Part II now covers general recommendations on what frameworks and policies should be in place to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.
While this is an Ontario document, the conclusions are relevant for every province. At the Canadian National Drinking Water Conference in Halifax last month, a speaker said it should be required reading for anyone involved in providing drinking water.
Commissioner Justice Dennis O’Connor has found that water protection must be in a multi-barrier approach – i.e. protecting it at every stage of its journey from source to tap. Among the 93 recommendations, he begins by say that the province should adopt a water-shed planning process, and that this should be led by the Ministry of the Environment and the conservation authorities. The Ministry would be in charge of approvals, but the implementation would be at the local municipality level. He also says that Ontario should have a Safe Drinking Water Act and that the municipalities providing the water must have a water quality management plan.
As far as the engineering and treatment is concerned, Recommendation 36, for example, says “All water providers should have as a minimum continuous inline monitoring of turbidity, disinfectant residual and pressure of the treatment plant, together with alarms that signal immediately when any regulatory parameters are exceeded. The disinfectant residual should be continuously or frequently measured in the distribution system. Where needed, alarms should be accompanied by automatic shut-off mechanisms.”
The next recommendation (37) says: “Every municipal water provider should be responsible for developing an adequate sampling and continuous measurement plan as part of its operation plan.”
The Ontario government’s initial response was that it wanted to have more studies and consultations before implementing the recommendations. This hesitation seems ludicrous, considering the quality and thoroughness of this $65 million report. The Commissioner took two years to complete his findings, and had input from the public, a host of international water experts, and written submissions from organizations as diverse as the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association, Conservation Ontario, the Sierra Club and the Ontario Water Works Association. The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers submitted a 40 page document “Safe Drinking Water and the Role of Professional Engineers.” The documents are all available on the Walkerton Inquiry web site – www.walkertoninquiry.com