Walkerton waits for answers about water

People in Walkerton have heard from more politicians and experts. But they're still waiting for answers to a lot of questions, including how their water got contaminated, and when it will be safe to drink.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, experts said they still don't know what caused the Ontario town's water to turn deadly.

Steve Burns, an engineering consultant, said private wells connected to the system were not part of the problem, though he said those wells will be disconnected from the main water supply.

Burns also dismissed the weather as a possible cause. "We do not believe the flooding of May the 12th was an issue," he said.

One early theory suggested that a severe rain storm may have washed animal waste into the system. But Burns said water flows out of the system, not into it.

Walkerton's water will not be declared safe to drink again for "at least six to eight weeks," according to John Martin, a lawyer for the municipality. The medical officer of health will make the final decision.

The Ontario Clean Water Agency is now looking after Walkerton's water system. One of the agency's employees, Peter Harrison, said crews are taking samples from about 20 sites in the town every day.

He said there are now back-up chlorination facilities at each of the wells, as well as monitors and alarms to make sure that all of the water is being properly cleaned.

The provincial government has set aside $100,000 as an initial contribution to help people pay for extra costs such as food, accommodation and other out-of-pocket expenses. Politicians have promised more money at a later date.

Ontario's chief coroner has asked people in the area to report any recent deaths in the family before Walkerton's E. coli outbreak made headlines.

Police are now investigating at least four cases. They predict it will take about a month before the coroner can determine if the deaths are linked to the bacterial outbreak.

So far, officials have confirmed that E. coli has killed six adults and a two-year-old child.

Third week without clean water

The 4,800 people who live in Walkerton are frustrated and edgy. They're tired of getting bottled water from a warehouse. They're bored of schools and businesses being shut down, and say they just want to get on with their lives.

Walkerton is now into its third week without clean water. The Ontario Clean Water Agency says it will be going door-to-door, flushing pipes in all 2,400 of the town's buildings.

Meanwhile, a plainclothes police officer escorted the local chief medical officer to a meeting Thursday.

Dr. Murray McQuigge said he's been getting phone calls from "very unusual people" with "some very different opinions," but he didn't consider them threatening.

McQuigge has been a major figure in the crisis, alleging that town officials could have acted sooner to protect people from the deadly water. He also believes budget cuts have led to unreliable screening of rural water supplies.

Water problems across Ontario

It seems Ontario's tainted water problem isn't limited to Walkerton.

A provincial monitoring agency says over the past two years, almost one-third of municipal water systems it tested had problems, ranging from dirty pipes to outbreaks of dangerous bacteria.

The Drinking Water Surveillance Program monitors more than 20 per cent of Ontario's water utilities.