London Free Press Business Section:



'Solutions' could cause more problems than they solve "Sometimes it feels draconian, after 120 years of serving church suppers, to be told your traditional ways of doing things are no longer relevant."

2004-05-03 02:01:57

Free Press Regional Reporter

  • If potable water is such an obstacle to running community programs, why not just turn off the taps, bring in bottled water and install portable toilets?
       It may seem a simple answer, but it could cause more health problems than it solves, says one public health expert.
       Bathroom hygiene, for example, generally demands handwashing with hot water and soap, says Dr. Susan Tamblyn, medical officer of health in Perth County.
       Replacing taps and toilets with outdoor port-a-potties could spread the very illnesses the new legislation is meant to stop.
       Likewise, young families would likely balk at having to change diapers in a place without running water for handwashing.
       "To move back to having no handwashing, no running water, would seem to be a step backward," she says.
       Tamblyn has written a letter to the Environment Ministry saying that maybe the new water regulations aren't warranted in all circumstances, particularly if there's no food handling involved.
       She asks that the province come up with "a practical and acceptable solution that also meets our public health objectives."
       So what about keeping the plumbing, but drinking only bottled water? Wouldn't that solve the problem?
       Not necessarily, says Rev. Kent Garrett, pastor of the Hebron and Hickson United churches near Woodstock.
       "There's nothing stating that bottled water is any better . . . than our well water."
       Commercial water bottling is a federally regulated "food" and under federal rules, may come from a tap, a well or a spring. Federal regulations mandate different tests and testing procedures than provincial rules.
       No one says unequivocally that federal safeguards for bottled water are less-stringent than provincial rules for tap water -- scientific debates have argued both sides of that question -- but the two sets of rules don't parallel each other.



       Even storing water in a cistern or reservoir outside the building isn't the simple solution it might seem to be, even though many farmers manage their water this way.
       In the case of small community buildings, the provincial regulation stipulates the water must be chlorinated, with testing and proper dosing almost daily (an onerous task for facilities used once a week or less) and/or treated for bacteria with an ultraviolet system.


       Ontario Regulation 170 (3) has, for some, become synonymous with bureaucratese.
       Wells at rural community centres and churches -- which under the legislation are deemed "non-municipal, non-residential drinking water systems" -- may be allowed, temporarily, to avoid spending big bucks on water analysis and treatment.
       To do so, they must:
       - Disconnect drinking fountains.
       - Post small warning signs at every tap and large signs at every entrance warning the drinking water should not be consumed.
       - Check the signs weekly to make sure they are still in good condition, record the dates the signs were checked and by whom, keep those records certifying sign inspection for at least five years and provide those records to Environment Ministry inspectors on request.
       - If serving food (for example, at strawberry socials), use boiled or commercially bottled water in cooking ingredients and in food-washing -- unless conducting bake sales or preparing meals only for members and personally invited guests.
       - If catering meals, provide disposable dishes or use dishes washed in water of at least 43C and sanitized in a chlorine solution, with the chlorine concentration verified using approved test strips.
       - Develop a risk-analysis and management plan for water use.    - Notify the Environment Ministry of the steps they have taken.

  • Copyright The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

    The price of safe water

    New rules will force some small groups to choose between
    their pocketbooks and their very existence.

    2004-05-03 02:01:57
    Free Press Regional Reporter

       "Welcome to church -- don't drink the water." Signs like this may greet rural churchgoers throughout the region because of stringent new Ontario water rules that will force tiny congregations and community centres to choose between their pocketbooks and their very existence.
       Without dramatic changes to the safe-water legislation, well inspection and water testing will cost thousands of dollars per facility.
       Some places say they will shut down rather than pay.
       Gone may be the church socials, community strawberry suppers, seniors' card parties and slo-pitch games at the local ballpark.
       "If you want to be community-minded, it's going to cost you mega-bucks," says Pat Taylor, clerk-administrator of West Perth, which has seven community centres and baseball diamonds that will have to meet water assessment, quality and reporting rules.
       Even provincial Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky has told The Free Press the rules need a close second look, though she emphasizes safe drinking water will be paramount in any amendments.
       Terrified by the thought of a recurrence of the Walkerton water crisis -- in which seven people died and thousands became ill because of contaminated communal wells and grossly inadequate reporting systems -- the former Conservative government passed legislation that affects or will affect anyone who drinks water anywhere in Ontario.
       With the not-so-catchy name O. Reg. 170 (3) and a user "kit" that's 181 pages long, the regulations came into effect for all water users last June. The implications are only filtering down to small communities.
       Some of these facilities may appear to be no more than isolated crossroads -- but rural leaders say these gathering places are the glue that keeps hamlets and farm relationships from falling apart under urban pressure.
       For them, the new rules boil down to this:
       Non-municipal, non-residential drinking-water systems must be inspected by engineers, certified clean and free of surface-water infiltration, fitted with chlorination or ultraviolet purification systems if necessary and be tested weekly by a certified water sampler. All that has to happen even if they've had many months of clean tests.,
       "There needs to be some relief for our smaller churches or we're going to lose them," said Rev. Kent Garrett, pastor at Hebron and Hickson United churches near Woodstock.
       Hickson's well was drilled this year and Hebron's was dug six years ago and they're both tested regularly. But each will have to spend as much as $10,000 just to comply.
       Each church has about 40 worshippers most Sundays. While Hebron and Hickson can manage the cost, others are hurting, Garrett said.
       "People are really anxious."
       "A ballpark figure is $3,000 to $8,000" just to get a professional engineer's assessment of a single well's safety and water quality, said Pat Milliken, farm and rural resource minister with the London conference of the United Church.
       Adding ultraviolet or chlorine treatment would cost thousands more and requisite weekly testing at least $1,000 a year, she said.
       Multiply that cost by dozens of little churches and dozens more community centres in the region.

         "Sometimes it feels draconian, after 120 years of serving church suppers, to be told your traditional ways of doing things are no longer relevant," Milliken said.
       "Rural communities, rural people, are feeling under assault and this is just one more thing. Every time they turn around, it feels like one more bureaucratic (decision) from away."
       A small loophole may allow a some to avoid installing new treatment systems for a few years, as long as they follow a host of rules longer than the 10 Commandments and post bright-red signs warning people not to drink the water.
       "That's not the best welcome" for people arriving at the door, Rev. Don Keenliside of Cook's United Church near Mt. Brydges said wryly.
        "The water is fine. We've had it tested," he said of the well at the small, heritage-designated church. "It's just frustrating for people when the water is good. The standards are now so high."
       A little farther west in the former Mosa Township, the Old No. 12 community centre will have to close if its trustees have to pay for weekly water testing, treasurer Duncan McVicar said.
       "That'll be the end, then," said McVicar, who attended the former one-room schoolhouse for eight years.
       The building is used a couple of times a month for seniors' card parties and costs about $1,000 a year for upkeep and maintenance. Any additional expenses would drain an already shrinking bank account.
       "Compliance is so prohibitively expensive for those small community halls and churches. Some of them have removed the plumbing from these facilities," Southwest Middlesex Mayor Doug Reycraft said.
       Even so, Reycraft can see the reasoning behind it. If people drank contaminated well water at a strawberry social, "it could be disastrous . . . . It's a very remote risk, (but) so was Walkerton. Walkerton has really changed the world."
       Safe drinking water is non-negotiable, Dombrowsky said.
       But, she conceded, "I think that Regulation 170 is a flawed document. It's very clear that it needs to be looked at again."
       She has been lobbied extensively by small municipalities on the issue and has asked for their suggestions for making this work without compromising water quality.
       "I'm looking actually in the next couple of weeks at bringing forward some ideas for consideration," she said.
       That is likely to include extending deadlines to comply with the regulations.
       But she stopped short of saying whether financial relief -- the keystone of communities' concerns -- would be part of that package.
       "You know that we believe that safe drinking water is absolutely essential in all our communities and we want to get this right. So we're not about to (just) tinker with the regulation right now. We want to take the time that is required to ensure that whatever changes we implement . . . will be workable."
       Meanwhile, the Hebron church is preparing to play host this month to a three-day workshop on the joys of smaller churches. 
       The drinking water will come from plastic bottles.

    Copyright The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003