September 24, 2007

Regulations, policies, education programs fufill Walkerton report recommendations

Five years after Justice Dennis O'Connor released his report on the public inquiry into the Walkerton drinking water tragedy, the Ontario government has completed implementation of all 121 recommendations in the report, Environment Minister Laurel Broten said recently.

"The single clearest message in the Walkerton Reports was that Ontarians' confidence in the safety of their drinking water must be restored," said Broten. "Through commitment, collaboration and timely action, I am proud to say that we have established a framework and implemented safeguards that will ensure safe drinking water for every Ontarian."

Justice O'Connor's report, delivered in two parts in January and May 2002, examined the events of May 2000, when bacterial contamination of Walkerton's drinking water supply caused seven deaths and made 2,300 people ill. His probe of the underlying causes of the tragedy resulted in a total of 121 recommendations to ensure the safety of drinking water across the province.

Since the release of the report, the government has been developing the regulations and policies necessary to address these recommendations. By the end of August, with the release of a public education piece on managing and operating septic systems, the province had completed all the legislation, regulations and policies required to address Justice O'Connor's recommendations.

Key actions to implement the recommendations have included:

*passage of the Clean Water Act, 2006, which protects major drinking water sources through the development of source protection plans in many watersheds across Ontario;

*requirements for licensing of all municipal water systems, including a Certificate of Approval, Permit to Take Water, an approved operational plan, financial plan and an accredited operating agency, plus development of a provincial drinking water quality management standard to guide the accreditation and operational planning requirements of the licence;

*rigorous certification requirements for operators, including mandatory certification courses for new and existing operators;

*establishment of the Walkerton Clean Water Centre to focus on improving training for water system owners, operators and operating authorities;

*the setting of stronger drinking water standards and development of regulatory requirements covering more systems; and

*establishment of the Advisory Council on Drinking-Water Quality and Testing Standards to provide expert advice to the Environment Minister on drinking water standards, legislation, regulations, and issues.

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