Drinking Water Officially Moves to Local Health Units

It is now official. As of December 1, 2008, the small private drinking water systems used in our industry will be overseen by local health units. Many of you will be asking, “What does this mean for my drinking water system, and what do I need to do next?”

Generally, there is nothing you need to do immediately. What happened as of December 1, 2008 is that the jurisdiction officially moved from Ministry of Environment to Ministry of Health and Long- Term Care. Up to now, your water system was regulated under Ontario Regulation 252/05, an MOE regulation. It is now subject to Ontario Regulation 318/08 under MOHLTC. Reg. 318/08 is essentially the same as 252/05, except for the transfer of responsibility to MOHLTC, so you simply need to keep doing what you were doing to conform to the old regulation, whether that was posting or testing.

The next step will be triggered by a visit from your local health inspector. At this step, you move from being regulated under 318/08 to 319/08, which is the new set of rules under MOHLTC.

The inspector will review your system, assign it a risk category of Low, Medium or High, and issue a directive that is specific to your system. The directive is simply the set of instructions on steps you need to take to comply with the regulations and insure safe drinking water for your guests. The directive will generally include things like how often you need to have your water tested, any changes you need to make to your treatment system and operator training requirements.

The approach here is very different from what we originally had under the old Reg. 170. The MOE approach was quite rigid and highly prescriptive. It set out in considerable detail what everybody had to do, and had little flexibility to accommodate individual circumstances. The new approach is much more risk assessment and principles based, and allows the health inspector to work with you to develop a system and approach that meets your specific needs.

There are several aspects of this new approach to keep in mind. This is a much more “system” based approach, and things like designating a person as “system operator”, record keeping and training are much more central to this approach. All of these will be spelled out for you by the health inspector, and the approach provides a fair bit of flexibility in the implementation.

There are some steps you should take before the inspector visits. Remember, they are evaluating your overall approach to providing safe drinking water, not just your treatment system. If you have been testing your water, have your past test results available and well organized. The same goes for any instruction manuals for your treatment system and maintenance records. What you do here will influence the risk category that is assigned to your system.

Regarding operator training, some are under the misunderstanding that there is a “drinking water course” that all system operators will have to take. This is not what the information materials from MOHLTC say about training. Consistent with the overall individualized approach being used, training is intended to be specific to the needs of a particular system. The fact sheet provided by MOHLTC states:


As the operator of a SDWS, you should be trained in the operation of the system for which you are responsible. The public health inspector will determine whether the type of training you have is appropriate and may recommend that you obtain additional training.

Specifically, the inspector’s directive may require you to:

So what should you do now? Other than getting your records and manuals in order, keep doing whatever you were doing under the old regulation until your local health inspector visits. At that point, they will begin working with you to develop an approach that works for your business and keeps your drinking water safe.

NOTO fought very hard to have the complicated, expensive Reg. 170 that was created in response to the Walkerton drinking water inquiry changed. The move to a common-sense approach overseen by health units is exactly what we asked for, and everything we see so far in Reg.318 and 319 looks like things are moving in exactly the direction we need to go to insure safe drinking water without bankrupting small water system operators. 

This article was taken from pages 11 & 12 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Spring 2009 Issue


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