Chair Mississippi-Rideau Source Protection Committee
As we deal with COVID-19, we are reminded of the value and importance of our public health system. Twenty years ago, this May, Ontarians were reeling with the news of different public health event: the Walkerton Water Tragedy. The community of Walkerton, Ontario, located north-west of Toronto with a population of less than 5,000 at the time, saw seven deaths, and 2,300 people fall ill, after breakdowns in the local water system. The drinking supply in Walkerton became contaminated by Escherichia coli and Campylobacter jejuni bacteria.
After a powerful public inquiry, it was time to respond to a tainted-water catastrophe with decisive changes in how our health system was functioning. The O’Connor Commission’s call to action resulted in changes to how drinking water was managed, including the introduction of Ontario’s Clean Water Act, 2006.
In 2007, under the Clean Water Act, Mississippi and Rideau Valley Conservation Authorities formed a local Source Protection Authority which formed a committee of multiple stakeholders — Municipalities, industry, small business, environmental interests, First Nations, agriculture and the general public — who would oversee research and the development of important source protection plans. In effect since 2015, these plans include policies that respond to local threats and help protect our municipal drinking water sources. Since day one, we have been fortunate to have municipalities, residents and businesses support the work of this local Source Protection Authority and do their part to keep our drinking water safe and clean. This work continues today.
And while May is a sombre time for Walkerton and Canadians as a whole, we hope that locally we can take comfort that we have made advances through legislation and local teamwork which together are ensuring that our municipal drinking water sources are safe and abundant — now and into the future.
We remember those who lost their lives in Walkerton twenty years ago this month and we think of all the people whose health continues to be affected from that tragedy.
Thank you to those in public health, environmental protection and local citizens who continue to work and advocate for safe drinking water. Together we are all part of this work to protect public health in Ontario. Let’s all do our part to keep ourselves, our families and each other safe.
Ken Graham is Chair of the Mississippi-Rideau Source Protection Committee. Ken served 20 years as an elected Smiths Falls Town Councillor and 11 years on the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority Board of Directors including three as Chair. Mr. Graham has also held Board of Directors positions at numerous other organizations such as the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit. In his professional career, Mr. Graham was a civilian employee of the Ontario Provincial Police, a Police Officer with the Smiths Falls Police Service and an Investigator with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.