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Water Science & Technology Vol 47 No 3 pp 1–6 © IWA Publishing 2003

Drinking water contamination in Walkerton, Ontario: positive resolutions from a tragic event

R. Holme

Earth Tech Canada, 105 Commerce Valley Drive West, Markham, Ontario, L3T 7W3, Canada (E-mail: rholme@earthtech.ca)


ABSTRACT
In May 2000, Escherichia coli 0157:H7 and Campylobacter jejuni contaminated the drinking water supply in Walkerton, Ontario. Seven people died and over 2,000 were ill as a result. The Ontario Provincial Government set up a judicial Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the outbreak and also moved quickly to introduce a new Drinking Water Regulation that incorporated some significant requirements for drinking water providers. The Inquiry itself was in three parts: (a) part 1 related to the events that occurred in Walkerton and why the water contamination occurred; (b) part 1A related specifically to the role of the Provincial Government in the event; and (c) part 2 related to the future of drinking water safety in Ontario with potential to influence regulation on a wider basis. A number of other actions were taken after Walkerton. In August 2000, the Ontario Government, through the Regulatory body, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) (a) re-issued and revised the Ontario Drinking Water Objectives (ODWO) as the Ontario Drinking Water Standards (ODWS) and (b) introduced new regulations governing drinking water in Ontario - the Ontario Drinking Water Protection Regulation. One of the key features of the Drinking Water Protection Regulation was the requirement to produce an independent Engineers' Report on all water systems. This paper provides a unique perspective on the Walkerton tragedy and its aftermath. The author was active in many aspects of the resulting activity (Chair of the Ontario Water Works Association's (a section of the AWWA) Special Committee involved in Part 2 of the Walkerton Inquiry; author of several of the Engineers' Reports mandated by Regulation; reviewer on behalf of the Regulator of Engineers' Reports submitted by others). The Engineers' Reports were of interest because (1) the drinking water providers (mostly municipalities) were mandated by regulation to complete the Reports by specific dates and are paying for the Reports, (2) the work had to be done by a registered professional engineer who is not an employee of the owner or the operator if a different entity and (3) the engineer had to sign a declaration that the Regulator could rely on the accuracy of the Report. In other words, the Municipality retained the Engineer and paid them to produce the Report - the Engineer essentially carried the liability while the Regulator had the final say in the acceptability of the Report, a sort of eternal triangle of responsibilities. The paper will outline how the drinking water profession in North America worked together to provide the Walkerton Inquiry with the benefit of its experience and knowledge of best practices to the benefit of consumers and the drinking water providers. It will also outline the procedures adopted to produce the independent Engineers' Reports and how the findings are being applied to further improve drinking water safety in Ontario, across Canada and in similar situations around the world.

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