Ontario to build 'water excellence centre' in Walkerton

Ontario dedicates centre of water excellence in Walkerton, announced $50 million investment

The Ontario government will invest $50 million and help build what Premier Ernie Eves called a "reservoir of knowledge and expertise" of water safety where contaminated water killed seven people three years ago.

Eves was in Walkerton on Thursday to announce a Clean Water Centre of Excellence would be established there.

The centre, he said, will co-ordinate training programs in the drinking water field and promote public education on water quality issues.

Eves also announced the province would invest $50 million in the Walkerton legacy trust fund, which will support clean water research and development projects and the operation of the centre of excellence.

"Together the legacy trust and centre of excellence will provide access to the best scientific knowledge, research, technology and training to ensure that Ontario's drinking water is clean and safe in every community," Eves said.

They will "provide a reservoir of knowledge and expertise for ensuring that Ontario's drinking water is the safest of anywhere in the world," he said.

In May 2000, Walkerton's water supply was contaminated when heavy rain washed animal waste from an area farm into a town well. Seven people died and 2,500 were made sick by a deadly strain of E. coli bacteria.

Justice Dennis O'Connor led an inquiry into the tragedy, and made 121 recommendations for making the water supply safer.

Eves said his government accepted O'Connor's report in its entirety and was working to implement its recommendations.

Critics doubt government's commitment

Some don't agree that the Conservative government is doing enough.

Bruce Davidson of Concerned Citizens of Walkerton told CBC Newsworld that the government needs to help farmers manage their waste materials, and needs to spend more money.

The first step in ensuring the water supply is safe is to protect the watershed, Davidson said.

"In fact, the province is not prepared to commit the dollars to see that through," he said.

"We have great concerns about the strength of their commitment."