'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
DEBORA VAN BRENK
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.
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
Not necessarily, says
Rev. Kent Garrett, pastor of the Hebron and Hickson United churches
stating that bottled water is any better . . . than our well 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)
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
- 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
The price of
New rules will force some small groups to choose between
pocketbooks and their very existence.
DEBORA VAN BRENK,
Free Press Regional
"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.
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.
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
For them, the new
rules boil down to this:
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
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
"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
Adding ultraviolet or
chlorine treatment would cost thousands more and requisite weekly
testing at least $1,000 a year, she said.
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,"
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
"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
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
"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.
water will come from plastic bottles.
Copyright © The London Free Press