Small Drinking Water Systems
NEW REPORTING REALITY FOR SMALL DRINKING WATER SYSTEMS IN ONTARIO
INTERVIEW WITH MIDDLESEX LONDON HEALTH UNIT SAFE WATER MANAGER
This story is brought to you in part by Waterloo Biofilter Systems
Fatih Sekercioglu is the Manager, Safe Water, Rabies and Vector Borne Disease at the
Middlesex London Public Health Unit
WT Research - What exactly is a small drinking water system (SDWS)?
Sekercioglu - A SDWS is operated by any business or organization (i.e. profit or non-profit) that has any public access to its drinking water and is not connected to the municipal system. Examples include: trailer parks, rural food establishments, campgrounds, etc. There is no stated minimum number of people accessing the water that dictates whether the site is a SDWS. The determination is made at the outset when the public health inspector visits the site and works with the site owner to do the risk assessment. A directive outlining what the owner's responsibilities are, is established at this time.
In December 2008 SDWS regulation was transferred from the Ministry of Environment to Ministry of Health & Long Term Care (MOHLTC) It made more sense since MOHLTC was already overseeing inspections of related systems, i.e. restaurants and any facilities having kitchens (e.g. churches and private associations), campgrounds, etc., and it also made sense because, with 36 health units, the MOHLTC had a much broader presence throughout the province and is able to provide much more regional coverage. Although it was already eight years since the Walkerton Tragedy, the memory of that disastrous event only served to heighten the belief that better, more rigid oversight would help ensure that a similar tragedy never occurred again.
WT Research - Why are SDWS now being reported to the public?
Sekercioglu - It is primarily a matter of transparency. The government has, over the years, been focusing on the issue of transparency in many areas, not just in water-related issues, and disclosure protocols are continually changing to reflect this. Previously, the government mandated SDWS operator/owners to provide effective signage on site, and take whatever other measures were necessary to inform users. But as times changed and we moved into the internet era, effective online disclosure has become more and more appropriate.
Having said that, not all health units are equal in terms of resources, which means that not all health units have the same priorities, so some would be more efficient at reporting, while others would be dedicating more resources to their priorities. But now with new protocol, all health units must upgrade their websites to provide advisory details. However there remains the issue of resources. Some health units have more tech staff and resources to spend on tech issues. Consequently, not all health units will be able to implement the new protocol within the deadline (which actually was Jan 1, 2018).
WT Research - How many SDWS advisories do you receive on average and what are the usual causes?
Sekercioglu - MLHU has jurisdiction over approximately 135 SDWS. The exact number fluctuates as some systems close while others open. In the 6 years I have been here, the actual number has been 132-137.
Last year there were a total of 18 adverse water quality issues. The reasons adverse conditions arise vary, but often it will be a case of 1 Total Coliform which can occur due to contamination by either the owner/operator or the lab. Consequently, we run more tests and must receive 2 consecutively clear results to avoid a bwa. Even with a 1 Total Coliform result, the owner/operator is still responsible to post signage on site advising the public.
The 18 adverse issues last year were solved in a relatively short time. None are outstanding. None were issued for E.coli
WT Research - Do you see more SDWS problems in a certain business/organizational sector?
Sekercioglu - Not really. Problems have been reported from SDWS in a diversity of sectors, both in businesses and non-profit organizations.
WT Research - How do you ensure that all owners of a SDWS have registered?
Sekercioglu - Admittedly, this is a challenge and there might be cracks in the system. When the Minister of Health & Long Term Care took over in 2008, public health inspectors literally went into the field and worked from the database they had inherited from the Ministry of Environment, and found many inaccuracies, in particular registered SDWS that actually were not fitting the criteria. There were over 500 registered SDWS on that list (compare that to the 135 that are currently on the list and this will clearly show the number of inaccuracies.)
There has been a communication challenge in ensuring all true SDWS owners register. Public health units work with other agencies, such as townships and business organizations to get the word out to prospective SDWS owners. One way or another, most do eventually register, however there is no doubt that some will continue to fall through the cracks, especially these days when so many people work from home; some do not fit the criteria, but others do, yet will not register as they think that since they're in their home, the system doesn't apply to them.
WT Research - How is the system monitored to ensure corrective measures are being taken to address problems?
Sekercioglu - The Public Health unit works with the owner/operator every step of the way and will offer any support necessary. This includes ensuring proper notification and taking the appropriate steps to solve the problem. Some system owners are more experienced and can handle all aspects independently while others need the help. But all regional SDWS issues are overseen by our office.
Regarding public notification, does the new disclosure protocol mandate the public health unit to keep bwas listed for public view after the issue is resolved? If so, for how long? And do you intend to post seasonal bwas continually? I am asking the latter question because one of the other health units has recently begun leaving seasonal advisories on their website all year in order provide full disclosure.
Since this is a more municipal (urban) health unit, serving cities and larger towns, the issue of seasonal advisories does not arise too often. The more rural areas, like cottage country would be more apt to have seasonal site issues.
Regarding the first question, according to the new protocol, it is not necessary to leave the bwa posted after the issue is resolved. This will be at the discretion of the health unit. It may stay up for a couple of days or a week, or it may be taken down immediately. There is no stated minimum/maximum length of time related to posting.