Media Release: Concerned Walkerton Citizens, CELA urge — Provincial Safe Drinking Water Legislation Must be Walkerton’s Legacy

Media Release

Toronto. The Walkerton tragedy demonstrated the need for legislation guaranteeing the right to safe drinking water, the Concerned Walkerton Citizens (CWC) and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) said today. In one of two papers filed with the Walkerton Inquiry, CWC and CELA call for a Safe Drinking Water Act. In a second paper, CELA proposes an Act to Conserve Ontario Waters, providing a framework for permanent protection for water sources and resources in the province. Together, these proposals will provide a comprehensive package of legal reforms to protect Ontario’s water.

“Tragedy on Tap: Why Ontario Needs a Safe Drinking Water Act” argues that a law is needed to remedy many significant gaps in the current drinking water regime in Ontario. Tragedy on Tap evaluates Ontario’s existing drinking water framework, examines regulatory approaches in other jurisdictions, and provides 16 detailed recommendations for legislative reform in the province.

The Act would guarantee a right to safe water, clarify and specify the roles of those involved in providing safe drinking water, provide an important role and legal remedies for the public, and establish a Drinking Water Commission. The Commission would report to the Ministry of the Environment, and would be responsible for ensuring the law is implemented.

A Drinking Water Commission would have specified responsibilities for; implementing a multi-barrier approach to drinking water safety, a mandatory duty to identify and assess new or emerging threats to drinking water safety, standard setting, policy development, carrying out provincial drinking water inspections and other matters.

Overall responsibility for the drinking water system in Ontario would rest with the Ministry of the Environment, but the new law would provide greater clarity as to the particular responsibilities of municipalities, utilities, health units, medical officers of health and labs (to name a few).

“In preparing this report, we were mindful of Premier Harris’s comment to the legislature on May 29, 2000,” stated Richard Lindgren, CELA counsel, “in which the Premier stated that,

‘…we have a right to take for granted that when you turn on the tap, what comes out is safe
and clean, not contaminated. Parents have a right to take for granted that what they give to
their children is life-sustaining, not threatening.'”

“The legacy of the Walkerton tragedy should be the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act,” declared Bruce Davidson, spokesperson for the Concerned Walkerton Citizens. “Had the Safe Drinking Water Act been in place in May 2000, I believe that the tragedy would have been far less likely, if not avoided entirely.”

Model Act to Conserve Ontario Waters

The Canadian Environmental Law Association also today released a Model Act to Conserve Ontario Waters. This Model Water Bill provides for an integrated approach to water management in the province. It deals with water quantity, conservation, source protection, land use impacts, ecosystem protection and water takings, on a watershed basis.

The Bill provides for management units on a watershed basis. These units would include municipalities, First Nations and Conservation Authorities within, dealing with, or impacting each watershed. It provides for specific, quantifiable and measurable water planning. Another hard lesson learned from Walkerton is that integrated water planning and management is essential for source protection for drinking water.

“The Walkerton Inquiry has heard evidence about the possibility of the groundwater aquifer being contaminated prior to the tragedy. We have no idea in Ontario how much of our groundwater aquifers have been lost to pollution. Yet there continues to be no limit on the number of water taking permits Ontario gives away. There is an urgent and obvious need for an overall and integrated system of water management in Ontario,” stated Sarah Miller, Coordinator with CELA.

“In addition, the lack of an ecosystem, precautionary-based water planning system is apparent in many of the cases for which our clients seek our help,” said Paul Muldoon, Executive Director of the CELA. “The whole water planning and management system needs to be integrated and made for accountable. These two Acts provide the roadmap for this to happen.”

CELA has written to the Ministers of Environment and Natural Resources, and to the opposition critics in those portfolios, asking for all party endorsement of a Safe Drinking Water Act based on the principles in the study that CELA has submitted to the Walkerton Inquiry and to endorse the Act to Conserve Ontario Waters.


For more information contact: CELA at 416-960-2284

Paul Muldoon Executive Director ext. 219
Sarah Miller Coordinator ext. 213
Richard Lindgren, Counsel ext. 214 or 613-385-1586
Theresa McClenaghan, Counsel ext. 218