June 6, 2005

Progress report confirms improved compliance with drinking water limits, regulations

An improved compliance record for Ontario's municipal residential drinking water systems has been confirmed by the first progress report submitted to provincial Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky by Ontario's chief drinking water inspector Jim Smith. The report's data show that 99.7% of almost 1.5 million water quality tests conducted in the last two years met Ontario's drinking water standards. In addition, as of the end of April 2005, that only 5% of the municipal systems had received orders in 2004/05 for infractions in the most serious categories, down from 14% of systems in 2003/04.

The progress report reflects the results of annual Ministry of Environment (MOE) inspections of all municipal residential drinking water systems in 2003/04, plus interim results from 2004/05. In 2004, the number of inspected facilities increased from 646 to 742 when the definition of a municipal water system was expanded.

Water quality overall was rated as very good, with 99.66% and 99.72% of water quality tests meeting Ontario's drinking water standards in 2004/04 and 2004/05, respectively. More than 700,000 tests for microbiological and chemical contamination were conducted each year.

The decrease in the number of orders issued over the two years indicates that municipal residential drinking water systems are improving their performance against key regulatory requirements. In 2003/04, orders were issued to 255, or 39%, of the municipal drinking water systems for not meeting regulatory requirements. For 2004/05, as of April 1, 2005, orders were issued to 65, or 11%, of the systems.

The report points out that issuing an order does not mean that drinking water is unsafe. Orders are also issued to correct administrative procedures such as failing to keep drinking water test records for five years.

All systems were assessed against more than 130 regulatory requirements. Of these more than 130 requirements, six categories have the greatest potential to affect the quality of drinking water. These include:

Failure to report an adverse water quality incident;

Failure to take appropriate corrective action;

Failure to comply with all the sampling required;

Failure to meet all treatment requirements;

Lower than required disinfection level in the distribution system; and

Inappropriate operator certification.

Ministry inspectors take a strict approach to findings of non-compliance in these areas.

New rules came into effect on June 1, 2005 governing how ministry officials conduct inspections. The new Drinking Water Compliance and Enforcement Regulation (Ontario Regulation 242/05) will apply a consistent set of standards to system inspections and will impose requirements on the Ministry on how to conduct inspections of municipal residential drinking water systems and of laboratories that test drinking water, as well as how to follow-up on any significant findings.

This regulation will also allow members of the general public to request an investigation of an alleged offence by a municipal drinking water system under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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