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Ontario water-system crisis looms
Treatment facilities inadequate in many municipalities, inspections find RICHARD MACKIE Queen's Park Bureau Saturday, July 29, 2000
Toronto -- Scores of Ontario communities could face a crisis in their water supplies because of problems with their water-treatment facilities, according to a new report by the Environment Ministry.
Hamilton-Wentworth, Peterborough, Sudbury, North Bay and Parry Sound are among the communities where Environment Ministry inspectors found problems.
"This is not good enough," Environment Minister Dan Newman said yesterday of the state of water treatment in Ontario after the report was released. "We are issuing field orders that will tell operators what needs to be done."
But opposition critics said ordering municipalities around is not the solution. They argued that the ministry's findings show the Progressive Conservative government should return to giving municipalities money to renew and maintain their water systems.
NDP Leader Howard Hampton said the government has to accept that municipalities cannot afford the improvements water systems need and the province must open its cheque book. "Municipalities are probably looking at about a $9-billion bill to bring water-treatment and sewage-treatment facilities back to where they need to be," he said. Liberal environment critic Jim Bradley said the Tory government "has to provide the funding to municipalities. They got out of the business of water and sewer and were quite proud of it. They have to get back into it with some massive investments in infrastructure."
The report found that 131 of 241 water-treatment facilities that were examined did not pass the government's inspection. Another 389 facilities have yet to be inspected. Those already examined were the ones that have had the most problems in the past.
Mr. Newman ordered the inspection of all 630 municipal water-treatment plants in the province late in May after six people died and about 2,000 fell ill as a result of contamination of the water system in Walkerton by E. coli bacteria. The inspections are to be completed by the end of the year.
The severity of the problems varied, but there were no indications that anyone had been put at risk by water-supply contamination because of the deficiencies.
While water-treatment systems in small communities dominate the list of those with problems, larger municipalities are not untouched.
Plants in the communities of Courtland, Simcoe and Delhi in the Regional Municipality of Haldimand-Norfolk were cited for not adequately maintaining their equipment to disinfect water by adding chlorine.
In the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, plants in Freelton, Greensville and Lynden were not taking a sufficient number of chemical or bacteriological samples.
A similar problem was found at the plants at Valley East and Dowling in the Regional Municipality of Sudbury.
In North Bay, the home of Premier Mike Harris, the water-treatment plant was found to have problems because it was taking in surface water but was not treating it properly.
The plant in Parry Sound, the home of Finance Minister Ernie Eves, had a similar problem.
The ministry's findings were released a day after Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller criticized the department for failing to protect the environment. Mr. Miller said the questions the government must answer in light of the ministry's failings are simple: "Is the ministry unwilling, incapable, or incompetent to perform the task? Or has the ministry management abdicated its responsibility?"
Mark Winfield, director at the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, said the inspections are a good idea, but they mean that inspectors have been taken away from other duties because the ministry does not have enough staff to do all it should be doing.
"Where are the resources being pulled away from in order to do this?" he asked. "Where is the next crisis going to blow up as a result?"
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), July 29, 2000