Walkerton inquiry lays out blueprint for safer drinking water

Walkerton inquiry recommends increased spending, better enforcement to protect drinking water quality

A report by the inquiry into the Walkerton water tragedy says more money needs to be spent to protect Ontario's drinking water and municipalities should carry much of the cost.

The second part of the inquiry's recommendations was released Thursday afternoon. It says the one-time cost for ensuring safe water in the province could range from $99 million to $280 million. That amounts to between $7 and $19 per household per year, not much when compared to the cost of a telephone or cable-TV.

Seven people died and 2,300 others became ill in May, 2000, after E. coli got into the water system in Walkerton, Ont.

Associate Chief Justice Dennis O'Connor was appointed to investigate what went wrong and determine how to make sure it never happens again.

O'Connor's report makes 93 recommendations. It calls for watershed protection plans for all watersheds in the province. It also recommends that the Ministry of the Environment take a leading role in regulating the impact of farming on drinking water sources.

Among other recommendations:

  • there should be mandatory accreditation of laboratories that test water quality

  • the Ministry of the Environment should develop an emergency response plan for municipal water providers

  • members of the public should be able to demand investigations of suspected violations of drinking water provisions

  • the province should prepare an annual report on the state of drinking water.

"As a general principle, municipalities should plan to raise adequate resources for their water systems from local revenue sources, barring exceptional circumstances," the report says.

O'Connor says the Ministry of the Environment should take a leading role in ensuring water safety and increase its commitment to strict enforcement of all regulations.

"I think it was a wake-up call," Ontario premier Ernie Eves said.

But critics responded that the government has only moved on eight of 28 recommendations in Part One of his report, released in January. In that part, O'Connor found that the deaths could have been prevented if the water had been chlorinated properly and if people had been warned in time.

They also complained that it was the Conservatives that cut the Environment Ministry's budget dramatically, which they say contributed to Walkerton.

Last week the Ontario government more than doubled the number of water inspectors from 25 to 51 and beefed up inspections. It has not indicated in advance whether it will implement Thursday's report.

The report is posted on the inquriy's