FEATURE COLUMN ...on the new "Safe Drinking Water Act" of Ontario:


Who can afford 'Clean' water?

Kelly Egan
The Ottawa Citizen

Monday, May 03, 2004

   We live with Walkerton yet; the sledge hammer that kills the flea.
   In rural Ontario, you will find thousands of little operations -- lakeside cabins, children's camps, churches, restaurants, motels, seasonal tourist spots; you know the type, perhaps you are the type -- that rely on well water, by necessity.
   The Ontario government has enacted the Safe Drinking Water Act, which arrives with an imposing set of regulations; the hammer, as it were, about to swing.
   Briefly, if you draw water and serve it to customers or guests to drink, you must install a "treatment system," regardless of how pure the well water might be. This may involve chlorination or filtration or an ultraviolet device.
   To determine which system is appropriate and to ensure all the Ts are crossed, a professional engineer must be hired to oversee the plan. Once complete, a staff member must be trained to run the system, which requires regular maintenance.
   Sound pricey? Little mom-and-pop operations say they're looking at bills in the $20,000 to $30,000 range.
   The Christie Lake Camp has been operating outside Perth for close to 80 years, each summer providing two-week sessions for about 380 disadvantaged children aged nine to 14. It is laudable work, widely supported with local fundraising.
   Program director Brian Gerrard said the regulations arrived in the mail one day. His first reaction?
   "You have to be a lawyer to understand what they're telling you to do. There must be 35,000 loopholes to figure out."
   Christie Lake has two sealed wells, installed six or seven years ago. The water has always tested clean, said Mr. Gerrard.
   The camp estimates it will cost at least $25,000 to meet ministry regulations, plus ongoing costs to run the systems. While he ping-pongs queries between the engineer, the plumber and the health inspector, the camp awaits word on a government grant to cover costs.
   Mr. Gerrard said the water used to be regularly tested -- as per government orders -- and wonders why a disinfection system is suddenly necessary.
   "Yes, the bottom line is we want to protect our kids, but are you telling me that what you've had us doing for the last 80 years hasn't been protecting our kids?"
   In a word, yes.
   The Ministry of Environment says the changes were brought about by recommendations from the O'Connor inquiry into the Walkerton tragedy, the tainted-water disaster that killed seven people in 2000 and sickened thousands.
   Ontario has a lot of wells -- 15,000 new ones every year and a total of three million residents relying on them.
   In Killaloe, about 150 kilometres west of Ottawa, village life nearly came to a standstill one night last week as residents poured into a meeting organized by those opposing the regulations.


   Gunther Borck is the part-owner of Krazy Paul's Oasis Restaurant in the village, just beyond the reach of the communal water system. The 60-seat eatery draws its water from a well.
   He's opposed to treating his water with a chlorination system. "We have perfectly good water now and they want us to put a poison additive into it."
   The restaurant is being asked to hire an engineering firm and have their water tested for myriad compounds (from arsenic to methane), an initial series of tests that will cost about $2,100. The actual system will cost much more.
   Mr. Borck is not simply angry about the new regulations. He's vowing not to comply.
   The Ministry argues that well and surface water is regularly contaminated and needs stricter attention. In 2003, in its eastern region, it had about 75 "adverse incidents" reported from routine testing.
   MOE official James Mahoney told the crowd in Killaloe that thousands of samples of water contaminated with E. Coli and bacteria are found in rural municipalities every year.
   Roger Imhof came to Canada from Switzerland almost 10 years ago to get into the tourist business. He now operates Bonnechere Lodge, on the shore of Golden Lake, not far from Eganville.
   He has 12 rental cottages, 20 trailer sites and a bed and breakfast. He has two drilled wells on his property and regularly tests the water. He, too, is vowing not to comply with his 2006 deadline. "We have to spend good money to treat clean water," said Mr. Imhof. "Walkerton had absolutely nothing to do with a well."
   It is difficult to know how many operations in Eastern Ontario are affected by the tougher regulations, but the number is surely in the hundreds. Tourism, after all, is the third-largest economic generator in Renfrew County, worth at least $100 million annually.
   The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association, for instance, estimates there are 700 tourist operators in its area, of which 188 belong to the association. The group believes roughly half its members are affected by the new rules.
   It is hard to argue with the proposition that we need rules and regulations to ensure a safe drinking water supply in the countryside, particularly when water is served to visitors.
   But remember this. Walkerton had a chlorination system. Walkerton had full-time staff operating its treatment plant. Walkerton had regular oversight from provincial authorities. And the contamination happened anyway, due to the worst form of bungling: the kind created, not by broken machines, but faulty humans. If we kill, or cripple, or totally disengage rural operators in a rush to regulate them, what have we really accomplished?

Contact Kelly Egan at 726-5896 or by e-mail, kegan@thecitizen.canwest.com

 The Ottawa Citizen 2004


Re: Who can afford 'clean' water? May 3 - by Kelly Egan
...on the new "Safe Drinking Water Act" of Ontario:

Related -  OTTAWA CITIZEN...


Rural folk need urban help

The Ottawa Citizen
Thursday, May 06, 2004

Re: Who can afford 'clean' water? May 3.

   Columnist Kelly Egan likened Ontario's clean-water legislation enacted in 2002 to taking a hammer to a flea. At a meeting a few weeks ago, I likened it to a cannon against a mosquito -- either analogy works to describe the situation.
   This is not to say that clean water is not a major issue and the Walkerton tragedy is to be taken lightly or readily forgotten, but enough has to be enough. The law's requirements could bankrupt many in rural Ontario, forcing the
closing of churches, community centres, corner


 stores, tent and trailer parks, motels, resorts, and eco-tourism providers.
   The most disturbing part of this issue has been the lack of coverage and solidarity. This is front-page news and should not to be buried in the city section. We rural folk need the support of our urban partners in Ontario. Maybe by raising the visibility of this issue we can rally around it together. We, in rural communities, are all trying to catch the same tail -- if we could get together, maybe we can catch the dog.

Rev. Lynn Watson,
Carleton Place,
Boyd's-Franktown pastoral charge,
United Church of Canada

 The Ottawa Citizen 2004


Water testing about to boil over - All I really need to know about Ontario's new drinking water regulations I learned at the Richmond Co-operative Nursery School...