Walkerton water declared safe to drink

After 198 days of relying on bottled, boiled, and bleached water, people in the town of Walkerton can finally do something most Canadians take for granted use their tap water.

Dr. Murray McQuigge, the medical officer of health, lifted the town's boil-water advisory to applause on Tuesday, seven months after it was implemented.

"It is a serious step in getting this town back to normal and restoring confidence in Walkerton's water system," McQuigge said.

Walkerton's municipal officials marked the occasion by clinking glasses and taking sips of the town's tap water.

The long-awaited announcement was made at a noon meeting attended by people who live in the town and the media.

McQuigge then proceeded to explain what has happened to the town's water treatment system since E. coli bacteria contaminated Walkerton's drinking water, killing seven people and making 2,000 others sick.

The Ontario Clean Water Agency has spent more than $11 million to revamp the system.

The water has undergone rigorous testing, and the town has ripped up and replaced pipes. It's put in a new filtering system.

The health officer emphasized that the task now is to rebuild trust in the town's tap water.

"I hope it will happen over time and I hope you will see you have one of the best water treatment systems in Ontario," he said.

Mayor David Thomson added: "I call upon my fellow citizens. Let us move ahead. Let's show the rest of Ontario and the rest of the world that we are survivors."

But the town's confidence in its water supply has been shattered. Some say they will never drink the town water again.

A public inquiry is under way to determine what happened.

Water manager delays testimony

While one man at the centre of Walkerton's water woes holds court to declare the water safe, the other central figure has said he won't be appearing at the inquiry as scheduled.

Stan Koebel was the manager of the water system when heavy spring rains apparently washed farm animal waste, tainted with E. coli, into one of the town's wells.

Koebel hasn't spoken publicly about his role in what happened in the days following the contamination, and now won't until next week at the earliest.

He was expected to testify starting Wednesday, but is instead being evaluated by a psychiatrist to see if he is fit to testify.

He may appear at the inquiry next week.

Koebel has been on a leave of absence from his job at the public utilities commission since May.

The inquiry has been told Koebel knew about the contamination but didn't tell anyone while he tried to flush the water system.