E. coli inquiry hears about outdated water system

A water expert testified Tuesday he found a water system in urgent need of an overhaul when he was dispatched last spring to flush deadly E. coli bacteria from Walkerton's drinking water.

Marc Ethier of the Ontario Clean Water Agency told an inquiry looking into Canada's worst E. coli outbreak that Walkerton's water system had broken valves, corroded pipes and substandard chlorination.

Ethier was part of a team sent to clean the town's pipes after the E. coli bacteria killed seven people and sickened 2,000 others last May.

Ethier described the antiquated system as typical of many Ontario municipalities.

"The equipment was in good shape, consistent with what we've seen in other municipalities of similar size," Ethier said.

He also said two of three wells providing water to the town had only a single chlorination system, not two as required.

Lawyer Paul Muldoon, representing the lobby group Concerned Walkerton Citizens, says Ontario needs better laws to ensure municipalities have all the equipment and facilities needed to upgrade water systems.

People in Walkerton still can't drink from their taps. They use bottled water, and boil water for cooking and bathing.

A preliminary report has concluded that heavy rains washed animal waste tainted with E. coli into the town's water supply.

The inquiry is expected to run into the new year. An investigation by Ontario provincial police is also under way.

Some residents are suing the Ontario government in a class-action suit and others are seeking compensation from the province.