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Feature article, March 25, 2005

Feature article March 25 2005

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Report says Reg. 170/03 need not apply to community halls, churches, B&Bs and small water systemsAdvisory committee recommends a risk-based, site-specific approach to water regulations

by Jeff Green

Last Fall Ontarios Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky appointed an advisory panel to help her accomplish her stated goal of fixing Water Regulation 170/03 so that is guarantees safe drinking water throughout the province without placing undue hardship on small municipalities, churches and businesses.

Released on World Water Day, March 22, a report to the minister entitled Report and Advice on Water Regulation 170/03 Smaller, Private Systems Review and Recommendations signals a change in direction for the government as far as water testing and treatment for small, rural water systems are concerned.

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Where Water Regulations 170/03 treats all systems in precisely the same manner, the new report argues that a site specific risk assessment approach be adopted for most small water systems in Ontario.

In its executive summary, the report says very small services such as bed and breakfast operations, church and community halls, small lodges, camps and cabins, trailer parks, seasonal operations and a wide range of small businesses do not have the resources, knowledge or skills to be able to follow or comply to the type of regulatory structure as set out in regulation 170/03. It recommends the development of a new regulation for these systems.

The report says that individual systems had to undergo a costly procedure to demonstrate the high contribution to robustness provided by a secure groundwater source. As we will indicate, there must be a reliable yet feasible ways of distinguishing between secure and non-secure sources.

To do this, the report discusses something they call cumulative robustness. What this means is that in cases where the water source is determined to be secure and where history shows the water to have been good over a long period of time, treatment will not be necessary.

As well, the report recommends that Health Units, who have been the historical water monitoring agency in the Province, be given that role once again.

It describes the historic role of Public Health Inspectors working for Provincial Health Units. Public Health Inspectors in rural areas have had many years experience taking water samples, advising homeowners, restaurant operators and others, to trouble-shoot problems with their water supplies. Public Health Inspector training, experience, and their presence over the entire province suggest that they may be in a unique position, with appropriate funding, to manage private water systems.

As far as costs go, the report speculates that if a cost recovery fee were to be levied for each system, it would be estimated to be in the range of $250 -$375 per year, a far cry from costs in the $10,000 range for engineering, treatment, and ongoing testing that are called for under Regulation 170/03.

However, many costs, such as costs that will be incurred to determine the risk level of individual systems, are not discussed by the report.

The report does say that water supplies that are determined to be problematic, such as those that are affected by surface water or are taking directly from lakes and streams, will require treatment, and there will be costs associated with that treatment.

The Minister has received the report, but what happens at this point is unclear. A media release from the Ministry of the Environment that accompanied the report was subtitled government will consider recommendations of Advisory Council, and it quotes Minister Dombrowsky as saying Our goal is to develop a more workable approach that ensures a high level of public health protection.

One of the groups that has been active in opposing Water Regulation 170/03 has been the Water Watch Association, based in Renfrew County. When contacted today, the Associations President, restaurant owner Gunther Borck, said that after a preliminary reading of the report, Id say theyve made a good effort, but there are some grey areas in so far as funding is concerned. Also, the question is what will happen now; what will a new regulation actually look like?

Gunther Borck also said that he had been concerned that the Advisory Panel that wrote the report was made up of former ministry officials and people with connection to IRCO, a large chlorine company, so the resulting report has surprised him

The heat is now on the Ministry, he said, the Advisory Council just made recommendations that are pretty much in line with what many organizations, like Water Watch, have asked for. The question is, what is the Ministry of the Environment going to do with the regulations?

This question will be answered in the coming months. A new regulation is expected in June.

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