Monday, May 10, 2004
All I really need to know about Ontario's new drinking water
regulations I learned at the Richmond Co-operative Nursery School.
The school has been operating in the basement of a church for almost
30 years and has roughly 40 children, aged two, three or four. It is
a small operation, obviously, with two part-time staff and an annual
budget of $38,000.
It draws its water from a well,
which is tested regularly without any adverse results. In the
post-Walkerton world, that wasn't good enough.
response to the Safe Drinking Water Act, it was forced to install a
treatment system. To determine what kind of system, it had to hire
an engineering firm.
So $5,000 or so went to the
engineer and $2,300 went to buy and install the ultra-violet
disinfection thingy. There went much of the co-op's financial
Now the water has to be tested weekly, the
samples being sent by courier to a lab in Ottawa, costing $1,800 a
year, in perpetuity. Once a month, they have to draw a sample of raw
Here's the cuckoo-nutso part of this. The
children don't drink the water; never have, probably never will.
Co-op president Christine Menzel said the children drink apple juice
during snack time and, on rare occasions, will drink bottled water,
as does the staff.
The co-op tried to explain this
to the ministry, but rules were rules.
So now the
nursery has the cleanest water this side of crystal springs so
Johnny can go wee-wee in safety and maybe wash his hands.
And we're helping to pay for it. For the first year, at least, the
government gave the co-op a grant to cover the $1,800 needed to test
the water nobody drinks.
Ms. Menzel has wondered
about the logic of all this, particularly since in her own rural
home, she is not legally required to test the water.
"All the parents say, 'Why do you have the system there?' To kill
the bacteria. 'Then why do you need to test it?' Because they tell
me I have to. That's the absurd part."
ironic, at the very least, that the bottled water on grocery store
shelves does not come with any kind of purity guarantee.)
In rural Ontario, you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of
little well-fed operations that are being forced to add treatment
systems to their water supplies.
lakeside cabins, children's camps, churches, restaurants, motels and
seasonal tourist spots.
The new regulations, phased
in over at least a four-year period, have caused a wicked backlash,
including the sprouting of protest groups and vows of defiance.
Look at a place like Lanark Highlands, with a population that
triples to a summertime high of 15,000. It doesn't have a single
municipally-run water system. Even the township office is on a well.
Chief administrative officer Tim Simpson is working on a plan to
have disinfection installed in 14 township facilities, costing
roughly $42,000, by the end of 2005. The regulations are affecting
dozens and dozens of township businesses and the resistance is quite
palpable, he explained.
"This issue is going to boil over. I've been in the municipal
administration field for 15 years and I've personally never been as
frustrated with any issue as this one. This thing has just taken the
Mr. Simpson said there is nothing so wrong with the township's water
that it requires this kind of regulatory intrusion.
"It's a complete waste of financial and human resources." The paper
trail for an adverse water test -- for trace amounts of excess
sodium, for instance -- he described in frightening terms.
is not lost on rural residents, said Mr. Simpson, that a village
resident is not required to treat his own water but must only
consume treated water -- probably from the same aquifer -- when he
visits church or the bingo hall.
Discontent is so loud, so widespread that even the government has
heard the message.
Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky has been confronted several
times about the issue, including at a meeting of 40 reps from the
Rural Ontario Municipal Association.
"We have inherited a flawed regulation," the minister plainly stated
in the legislature in late April.
Ms. Dombrowsky told MPs she has instructed staff to examine the
regulation and come back with improvements so that churches and
charitable groups in community halls are not driven out of
existence. There may be news on this as early as this week.
(Her use of the word "inherit" is transparently partisan, yet
insightful. For all their bluster about small government, the Tory
regimes of Harris and Eves left Ontario with an inspector behind
every tree, cornfield and sawdust pile. Common Sense Revolution?
Give that one a flush.)
has been said over and over by country people who feel victimized by
the fallout from Walkerton, yet it bears repeating.
That community, where seven people died from bad water, had
chlorination and a treatment plant and, on paper, lots of checks and
And disaster still ensued. The question is: how many thousands must
be punished, for the mistakes of a few?
Egan at 726-5896 or by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org