Water testing no place to seek savings

Among the axioms we live by in the world of journalism is that stories, editorials and columns we expect to cause a stir often don50度灰视频檛, while reports we deem innocuous can end up setting off a firestorm.

The former is the case with a piece I wrote in March for the Community News about a proposal to end free water testing for private wells in Ontario.

At meetings in March, councils within the watershed received a resolution from the Ausable Bayfield Maitland Valley Source Protection Region committee asking the province not to proceed with a recommendation to phase out free testing.

In a letter to provincial Minister of Agriculture Lisa Thompson, committee chair Matthew Pearson raised the spectre of the Walkerton water crisis, which left seven people dead and caused more than 2,000 to fall ill when E. coli entered the community50度灰视频檚 water system.

50度灰视频淚n the Walkerton Inquiry Report Part 2, Justice O50度灰视频機onnor concluded the privatization of laboratory testing of (municipal) drinking water samples connected directly to the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Walkerton Ontario in May 2000,50度灰视频 the letter states.

50度灰视频淭wenty-four years later, there is a proposal to privatize water testing once again.50度灰视频

The committee50度灰视频檚 concern centres on a recommendation in the provincial Auditor General50度灰视频檚 2023 Value-for-Money Audit of Public Health Ontario (PHO), which was released in December. The auditor recommended PHO, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health (MOH), update and implement a laboratory modernization plan within 12 months to streamline the laboratory50度灰视频檚 operations.

50度灰视频淭his stemmed from a 2017 proposal by PHO, collaboratively with the MOH at the request of the deputy minister, to close six of the 11 public health laboratory sites (Hamilton, Kingston, Orillia, Peterborough, Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins) and gradually discontinue private drinking water testing,50度灰视频 stated Pearson in the source protection committee50度灰视频檚 letter.

Justification cited by the PHO and the MOH for the moves includes mitigating rising costs of maintaining facilities and establishing 50度灰视频渁 more efficient operating model that reduces the rerouting of samples to other PHO laboratory sites.50度灰视频

About 50% of the Ausable Bayfield Maitland Valley region population is serviced by private wells, Pearson notes in his letter.

That a body charged with ensuring drinking water safety drawing parallels with the tragic Walkerton situation didn50度灰视频檛 generate a flood of letters to the editor and massive public outrage is, to us, surprising.

The proposed move has gone mostly under the radar. A Google search on the topic generates virtually no hits from major media sources and only a few articles in scattered community papers, plus a fairly comprehensive piece from the Cottage Life magazine website.

Among the stories that can be found, are a couple misleadingly headlined, 50度灰视频淥ntario health minister vows not to end free private well water tests,50度灰视频 and 50度灰视频淧rovince clarifies stance – says private well water testing will continue.50度灰视频

Both articles are based on Sylvia Jones50度灰视频 April 22 response to a question in the legislature, where she stated: 50度灰视频淭o be clear there are no changes to where the people of Ontario can get their well water tested for free in the province of Ontario.

50度灰视频淭he ministry has not made any decisions about changes to the provincial well water testing program, including which laboratories conduct testing of water samples,50度灰视频 Jones continued.

To take this as a 50度灰视频渧ow50度灰视频 not to end free private well testing would be akin to accepting at face value today, Premier Doug Ford50度灰视频檚 oft-recanted pledge that his government 50度灰视频渨on50度灰视频檛 touch the Greenbelt.50度灰视频

One suspects Jones50度灰视频 feeble assertions won50度灰视频檛 be the end of this story.

To be clear, gratis or levied, private well owners should be getting testing done. However, the local source committee feels forcing well owners to pay a fee to commercial labs, would 50度灰视频渄isincentivize testing,50度灰视频 due both to the cost and the inconvenience involved.

50度灰视频淲hen water is not monitored regularly, there is no way to know the true quality of the water, which puts people at increased risk of becoming ill,50度灰视频 the committee letter states. 50度灰视频淲ith private systems being stand-alone systems, any associated illnesses are isolated sporadic events and do not come to public attention like those seen during the Walkerton outbreak.50度灰视频

Most would agree that seeking cost-saving efficiencies is within every government50度灰视频檚 mandate. But nearly 25 years after the devastating events in Walkerton, it50度灰视频檚 difficult to see this as a good place to look.