July 25, 2005

Revisions to Ontario drinking water rules aim to make system clearer, more affordable

Proposed amendments to Ontario's drinking water systems regulation are intended to make the regulation more workable and flexible by clarifying testing and operational regimes set out in the regulation. In some cases, says the Ministry of Environment (MOE), the revisions could reduce the cost of regulatory compliance. The draft revisions have been posted for a 90-day comment period ending September 20, 2005.

The regulation (O Reg 170/03 under the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002) applies to large and small municipal residential drinking water systems, non-municipal year-round residential systems (such as rural subdivisions and mobile home parks), and systems serving designated facilities in any category, such as schools, day care centres and health or social care facilities.

Since it came into effect in June 2003, the testing and treatment requirements, in particular for small and rural systems, have been criticized as being too stringent and financially onerous. Accordingly, the proposed amendments would provide for, among other things:

*less frequent testing for chlorine residual in water distribution systems;

*more clarity regarding adverse conditions and corrective action relating to chlorine residual in the distribution system;

*clearer and updated corrective actions in response to adverse water quality;

*clearer and less frequent microbiological testing requirements (except for large municipal residential systems);

*clearer requirements relating to testing frequency and intervals between tests;

*mandatory system registration;

*clearer alarm response requirements; and

*more flexibility relating to persons allowed to perform operational checks at designated facilities.

The amended regulation would also ensure that systems using hauled water have properly constructed and maintained cisterns.

In addition, the MOE is inviting comment on a smaller group of amendments which would apply only to non-municipal year-round residential drinking water systems, such as those serving rural subdivisions and mobile home parks. Among these proposals is an exemption (for these systems only) from treatment for groundwater systems, provided certain conditions are met, e.g. history of safe source water, on-site inspection of well and wellhead).

The Ministry is also seeking assistance from relevant interests in the development of further amendments to O Reg 170/03 which would allow certain residential systems to use point-of-entry (POE) treatment as an alternative to centralized primary disinfection of drinking water.

While POE treatment may offer some small residential systems a cost-effective option for meeting primary disinfection requirements, there are a number of issues to be resolved in the course of setting conditions under which POE treatment would be allowed under the regulation. These are outlined in the regulatory proposal.

Finally, in conjunction with the proposed amendments to O Reg 170/03, the MOE is proposing to revise Ontario's drinking water quality standards regulation (O Reg 169/03). This amendment would eliminate standards for parameters which are now considered outdated or are no longer considered to be health-related by the scientific and technical community and by the province's Advisory Council on Drinking Water Quality and Testing Standards.

The parameters proposed for removal from Schedule 1 of the regulation include: fecal coliforms; general bacteria population, expressed as background colony counts on the total coliform membrane filter; and general bacteria population, expressed as colony counts on a heterotrophic plate count (HPC).

The full regulatory proposal, with links to relevant documents, is posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights registry, www.ene.gov.on.ca, reference No RA05E0005.

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