Understanding the Drinking Water Regulation Landscape Richard Clara

Richard Clara
Laboratory Manager
ALS Laboratory Group

On December 1, 2008, the regulatory authority for small works was officially transferred to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MOHLTC), to be delivered through District Health Units. As of that date, two regulations under the Health Promotion and Protection Act (HPPA) were enacted with the express purpose of regulating the drinking water supplied by Small Drinking Water Systems. The reason two regulations were created is to have an orderly transition between the regulation under the former Ministry of Environment regulation (O.Reg 252/05) and the ultimate regulation for small works under the HPPA (O.Reg 319/08). The key to this transition is the creation of O.Reg 318/08, which is essentially identical to O.Reg 252/05, but promulgated under the HPPA. This allows works that are already compliant with drinking water regulations under the MOE to remain compliant under the MOH programs until O.Reg 319/08 becomes effective for their works.

The key to the regulation of small drinking water systems under this new program is the use of risk assessment. Rather than regulate by the “one size fits all” process of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the District Health Units will assess each works for the level of risk that the system presents, based on its own unique circumstance. They have developed a computer-based Risk Categorization Tool (RCat) that will guide the inspector in establishing the level of risk for a particular system. It will look at such things as type of source, treatment that is used, historical test results, and so on. Based on a series of questions and inspector observations, the RCat Tool will establish the level of risk, and from that will follow the treatment, operation and testing requirements for a particular system. These requirements will be documented into a Directive issued for that system to remain in compliance.

Once the Directive has been issued, the system ceases to be regulated under O.Reg 318/08, and from that point will be regulated under O.Reg 319/08.

The expectation is that each and every small drinking water system that provides drinking water to the public will be assessed in this fashion. Each will have a Directive issued, specifying the treatment, operating and testing requirements for each individual system. It is estimated that there are over 18,000 small drinking water systems in Ontario, and each one will be visited and assessed individually – a huge undertaking. Through the risk assessment process, each small drinking water system will be adjusted and monitored only as much as necessary to ensure safe, potable water to consumers.

What does this mean? If you provide drinking water to the public, then you are already familiar with the requirements under O.Reg. 252/05 – if not, then you should be. For now, there is no change in the requirements for you to stay in compliance, since for the transition period the requirements under O.Reg 318 are identical to those under O.Reg 252. At some point in the future, you should expect to receive a call from a Public Health Inspector (PHI) with the District Health Unit nearest you. This will be followed by a site visit by a PHI with a tablet computer, who will inspect your system and plug the system characteristics into the RCat tool. After the inspection, you will receive a Directive that will specify what you and your system will need to do (treatment, operational, testing) to ensure safe drinking water is supplied to your consumers. There is an appeal process to the Medical Officer of Health if you disagree with the requirements in the Directive.

To prepare for the day the inspector comes calling, the wise small drinking water system owner should consider a couple of things to demonstrate that their system is operated responsibly and with due consideration for their consumers. The first suggestion is to establish a historical testing record. This is simple to get going, and a clean record of tests will provide a compelling argument that the system as configured is providing safe drinking water. The second is to have strong documentation of your system procedures, maintenance and test reports.

This may be tedious to start, but nothing impresses an inspector more than to see a strong grip on the operation of a system, as demonstrated by well-maintained documentation. Create a simple filing system so records and reports can be accessed easily and quickly. To really impress the inspector, create a list that itemizes your weekly, monthly, quarterly tasks on the treatment system with built-in reminders – there are many schedulers available that can be used on home computers. Finally, have an adequate backup plan. When things start to go sour, the inspector will want to ensure that some thought has been put into protecting consumers.

With the transfer of regulation of small drinking water systems to the District Health Units, Ontario is coming to the end of a long process that started with the shortcomings revealed by the Walkerton episode. Along the way, there have been mistakes made, lessons learned, and most importantly, consultation (and listening) on the part of both the regulators and the regulated. The benefit of this process is a drinking water system that most assuredly provides safe drinking water to the people of Ontario, wherever you live, work or play.

More information on the regulation of small drinking water systems can be obtained from the MOH website at http://www.health.gov.on.ca/ or by calling your local District Health Unit. 

Richard Clara is the Laboratory Manager for ALS Laboratory Group in Thunder Bay, and has been involved in drinking water and environmental analysis for over 20 years. He can be reached via email at rick.clara@alsenviro.com.

This article was taken from page 19 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Winter 2009 Issue


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