May 27, 2002

Ontario gets tough on water systems inspections: more staff, unannounced checks

Municipal water systems will be subject to more rigorous scrutiny as the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy (MOEE) increases the frequency of inspections and doubles the number of inspectors. Environment and Energy Minister Chris Stockwell said the move is intended to address the recommendations of Part One of the Walkerton Inquiry report and ensure safe, clean water at every municipal water system in the province.

Specifics of the strengthened inspection program include:

*doubling the number of the ministry's dedicated municipal water systems inspectors, and providing adequate resources to further improve inspections to ensure they are thorough and effective;

*continuing the ministry's annual inspections of municipal water systems, and introducing unannounced inspections. One out of every three inspections will now be unannounced;

*establishing a new written protocol to provide inspectors with standard guidelines to ensure more thorough and effective inspections; and

*requiring inspectors to conduct follow-up inspections of facilities found out of compliance with the Drinking Water Protection Regulation within one year of any inspection that discloses a deficiency.

A number of recommendations by Mr Justice O'Connor in the first part of his report on the Walkerton Inquiry addressed the government's role in overseeing the management of municipal water systems. Four of these (Nos 13, 14, 16 and 17) related directly to the inspection of Ontario's municipal water systems. Approximately 90% of Ontarians get their water through a municipal system.

Having determined the number of additional inspectors needed to carry out the enhanced program, the MOEE is doubling this contingent to 51 by hiring 26 dedicated inspectors; all water inspector positions will be permanent. The Ministry is developing tailored training programs to give its environmental officers the additional technical skills and knowledge to conduct these more thorough, in-depth inspections.

The MOEE is developing comprehensive training programs to upgrade the skills of municipal water system operators so that they will be able to do their job more effectively. These training programs will be mandatory. As well, the government is exploring potential models for the certification and re-certification of all municipal water system operators in the province.

More information is available from John Steele at the MOEE, 416/314-6666.

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