An Ontario court has fined the Municipality of West Elgin and three of its water distribution system operators for failing to maintain and document adequate chlorine levels in drinking water.
A routine inspection in March 2010 revealed that, over five years, the system operators had failed to maintain minimum levels of chlorine in the system, altered log books, provided false information to the Ministry of the Environment, and failed to report the low chlorine levels to the Medical Officer of Health.
The Ministry of the Environment laid a number of charges under the Safe Drinking Water Act – legislation enacted in 2002 in response to the incompetent operations and fraudulent reporting that contributed to the Walkerton tragedy.
Earlier this month, the court in St. Thomas assessed fines, plus a victim surcharge, totalling $193,125. The court also sentenced the lead operator, Lloyd Jarvis, to 30 days in jail, ordered him to surrender his operating certificate, and prohibited him from working with drinking water in the future.
Mayor Bernie Wiehle told the Toronto Star that the discovery of the water quality problems and the altered documents had come as a shock, given the Ministry of the Environment’s “glowing” reports on the municipality’s drinking water. Although he acknowledged that the municipality bears responsibility, he did note the province’s failure: “If there were problems before, it wasn’t picked up by the ministry.”
According to the West Elgin Chronicle, Mayor Wiehle warned his municipal council, “You get complacent, thinking you’re doing a wonderful job… I hope we all understand the seriousness of it. We can’t be complacent.”