Canada

Koebel admits water warnings weren't acted on

Former Walkerton water manager Stan Koebel admitted Tuesday that he received repeated warnings from Ontario's Ministry of Environment about the presence of E. coli in the town's water supply over a three-year period. In May, a deadly outbreak killed seven people and made more than 2,000 ill.

During testimony before the judicial inquiry looking into the disaster, Koebel admitted that from 1995-98 there were eight separate incidents in which the town's water supply tested positive for E. coli. Questioned by commission council Brian Gover, Koebel recalled receiving two official warnings from the Ministry.

Koebel said he was aware of the dangers of the bacteria and understood the benefits of using chlorine to halt its spread. But he told the inquiry he didn't raise the chlorine levels as high as the Ministry wanted them because people complained about the water's taste. Koebel said he was trying to balance what his customers wanted and what the government was asking for.

It's the second day of Koebel's testimony before the inquiry his first public statement on the matter since the crisis. On Monday, he told the judicial inquiry he was responsible for a litany of improper procedures while managing the water.

He admitted that mistakes were made and things were done improperly, confirming that water safety test results were falsified, samples were mislabelled and chlorine records changed.

"I don't know what happened," he said.

Just before his testimony began, a sombre Koebel read a statement to the inquiry, saying "Words cannot begin to express how sorry I am and how bad I feel."

Koebel said that, in hindsight, he should not have been doing the top job at the water supply. "I didn't have enough education, background" to run both the town's water and electric systems, he said.

Asked by his lawyer if he'd let his community down, Koebel said, "Yes, I feel I've let them down."

The outbreak followed heavy spring rains that washed animal fecal matter into one of the town's wells from a nearby farm. Koebel told the inquiry when he heard the deadly bacteria had infected the town's water supply the effect on him was like "a devastating earthquake."

But he denied intentionally placing townspeople at risk. Koebel told the inquiry that until the end, he still thought the water was good quality.

The inquiry has heard that Koebel delayed notifying the public that there was a problem with the water for several days while he tried to flush the system.

His brother, PUC foreman Frank Koebel, told the inquiry of drinking on the job and falsifying water samples.

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