May 24, 2004

Ontario water system operators must meet tough new training, certification requirements

Water system operators in Ontario are now subject to the toughest training and certification requirements in North America, provincial Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky said last week. On May 14, the provincial government filed a new regulation (O Reg 128/04) under the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, which will ensure that operators obtain the necessary knowledge to run Ontario's drinking water systems and that they continue to improve their knowledge and skills. The regulation applies to those drinking water systems that require a certified operator as provided for in the Act. These include large and small municipal residential systems, large municipal non-residential systems, large non-municipal non-residential systems, and non-municipal year-round residential systems.

The new regulation will address eight of the ten recommendations on certification and training made by Commissioner O'Connor in the Report of the Walkerton Inquiry. The provincial government intends to work with the water industry to improve access to training across the province, which will address the remaining two recommendations on certification and training.

Most aspects of the regulation come into force on August 1, 2004. The new training requirements come into force on August 1, 2005.

The regulation sets out new requirements for operators and water quality analysts. Entry-level operators must now take a Ministry of Environment-approved course within 16 months after receiving their operator-in-training (OIT) certificate. All operators, as well as water quality analysts must complete specific annual training requirements before they can renew their certificates.

The hours of training required by an operator must reflect the different knowledge needed to run a particular system. This will range from 20 hours per year for small, simple systems to 50 hours per year for more complex, advanced systems. These new rules reflect training requirements every year over a person's career.

What is accepted under the regulation as training is now more clearly defined than in the past. This will result in a more rigorous training program, ensuring relevant subject matter and more structured learning. The regulation provides for both continuing education training and on-the-job practical training. This change reflects the need for operators to have a range of skills and knowledge to effectively perform their work.

More formal training will be required, covering areas such as the regulatory framework, risk assessment, emerging pathogens and their risk to public health, etc. For example, operators must become, and remain aware of, emerging pathogens, protection measures and new technologies.

More on-the-job training will also be required, in formats such as equipment demonstrations, demonstrations of safe practices within the specific facility, instruction on the appropriate response to an emergency in that facility and contingency planning specific to its system, etc. All on-the-job training will have to meet specific criteria, including documented learning objectives and provision by a trainer with expertise in the subject matter.

"Grandparented" operators (those who received an operator's licence in the past without passing a certification exam) must be re-certified through examination. Grandparented operators who are the "overall responsible" operator have one year from the filing of the regulation to take and pass the exam (i.e. May 14, 2005), while other grandparented operators have two years to do so (i.e. May 14, 2006).

New fees for drinking water operators, wastewater operators and water quality analysts will take effect August 1, 2004. These increased fees are in line with what other professionals pay to maintain professional status, and will cover some of the increased cost of delivering the program. The increases also reflect the rate of inflation since the fees were initially set in 1987.

Full details on the new regulation are contained in the Ministry of the Environment publication, "Technical Brief: Certification of Drinking Water System Operators and Water Quality Analysts Regulation," which may be viewed on the MOE Web site, www.ene.gov.on.ca.

In related activities, the MOE has proposed amendments to the Drinking Water Systems regulation (O Reg. 170/03) which will extend the deadline for certain systems to install treatment equipment and will allow the Ministry to consult on further changes to the regulation to make compliance more feasible for small waterworks.

The amendments, which will apply to both municipal and privately-run drinking water systems, respond to concerns expressed by rural municipalities and operators of non-municipal drinking water systems about the impact of the regulation on their ability to continue to provide services to their clients.

The proposed amendments will extend the treatment deadlines from July 1, 2004 to December 31, 2004 for surface water systems in the three categories listed below, as long as the system does not serve a designated facility (i.e. school or health/social care facility):

* non-municipal year-round residential systems (e.g. mobile home parks, subdivisions, condos/apartments);

* large non-municipal, non-residential systems (e.g. systems serving hotels, resorts and campgrounds with less than six hook-ups); and

* large municipal, non-residential systems (e.g. large community centres and recreational facilities).

The treatment deadline for groundwater water systems in these three categories remains December 31, 2005.

Other extensions have been provided for small municipal and non-municipal non-residential systems as well. In addition, changes have been proposed to the sequence of corrective actions for some adverse test results to facilitate the immediate correction of the problem. Another proposed revision, to the definition of "food premises," will clarify that systems not serving the public, such as food manufacturers, are not included in the regulation.

The proposed amendments have been posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry for a 30-day public comment period ending June 11, 2004.

Finally, Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky recently announced the creation of an Advisory Council on Drinking Water Quality and Testing Standards. The Council will be headed by environmental consultant Jim Merritt, a former Assistant Deputy Minister with the MOE's operations division.

The Council will make recommendations to the Minister on matters related to provincial drinking water standards. Specifically, its mandate will be to:

* review scientific and technical documentation of proposed standards;

* consult and provide feedback to the public;

* undertake additional consultation to clarify and address issues; and

* consider and make recommendations on adopting standards for contaminants that are not currently being considered through the federal-provincial process for developing Canada-wide drinking water guidelines.

Its initial priorities will include consideration of:

* replacing the total coliform test with an E. coli test;

* the desirability of a turbidity limit lower than that specified in the federal- provincial guidelines;

* treatment standards for protozoa based on source water quality; and

* a review of Ontario's standards for disinfection byproducts.

Council members are from key professional organizations with expertise in the areas of microbiology, engineering, utility operations and public health and a record of interest and accomplishment in areas related to drinking water.

Dr Robert Andrews is a civil engineering professor at the University of Toronto. A member of the American Water Works Association, he currently serves on the AWWA's disinfection committee as well as on the Ontario Water Works Association's treatment committee.

Dr Ronald Brecher is principal and secretary/treasurer of GlobalTox International Consultants, a firm specializing in assessing the impact of toxic chemical exposures on human health. He is also an adjunct professor, at the University of Waterloo and at the University of Guelph.

Michele Giddings manages the water quality and health bureau within Health Canada's healthy environments and consumer safety branch. She is Health Canada's representative on the federal/provincial/territorial committee on drinking water and has developed a number of drinking water guidelines both for Health Canada and the World Health Organization.

Rod Holme is the former vice-president of Earth Tech Canada's water and wastewater division. As an independent consultant on drinking water, he brings to the council extensive experience in technical and project management in municipal water supply.

Dr Peter Huck is a civil engineering professor, as well as NSERC Chair in water treatment and university research chair at the University of Waterloo. He has undertaken extensive research in water quality and treatment.

Dr Alexander Hukowich is the associate medical officer of health for the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Health Unit and the appointed coroner for Northumberland County. He also represents the Association of Local Public Health Authorities.

Dr Marilyn Lee is a professor in Ryerson Polytechnic University's school of occupational and public health, where she teaches courses on water quality, food hygiene, food pathogens, parasitology, pest control, and infection control.

Dr Harold Richardson is the managing director of the Ontario Medical Association's laboratory proficiency testing program. He represents the OMA on the advisory council.

Dr Ken Roberts has more than 30 years' experience in drinking water treatment engineering and groundwater management. He currently works for XCG Consultants and previously held a number of water quality-related positions in the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Energy.

John Rudnickas is the manager of water quality for the city of Toronto. A chemist by training, he is responsible for managing Toronto's accredited and licensed laboratory for drinking water testing.

Dr Mark Servos is a biology professor at the University of Waterloo whose research focuses on risk assessment and risk management of emerging water quality issues such as endocrine disruption and pharmaceuticals in the environment.

Dr Lesbia Smith is assistant professor at the University of Toronto and McMaster University's Institute of Environment and Health. She has carried out research related to ecological and human health risk assessment of surface waters, and links between toxic substances in drinking water and illness.

Robert Walton is the former manager of water and wastewater services and current director of public works for the county of Oxford. He represents the Ontario Municipal Water Association.

A representative from the First Nations Chiefs of Ontario will be named in the near future.

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