Regulation 903 (Wells)

Backgrounder to Sept 21/05 Media Release: Environmentalists Accuse McGuinty Government Of Delay In Fixing “Deficient” Water Well Regulation

Sep 21 2005

Passed under the Ontario Water Resources Act, Regulation 903 sets out minimum provincial standards governing the 15,000 new wells constructed each year in Ontario, and the hundreds of thousands of wells already in existence across Ontario and used for drinking water purposes.In August 2003, when Regulation 903 was largely re-written by the former Conservative government, a significant rollback occurred in relation to the disinfection rule for ensuring wellwater safety.  In particular, the 2003 changes did not prescribe a proper chlorination standard to eliminate bacteria from wellwater, and did not require post-treatment sampling to verify if the wellwater is safe for human consumption after new well construction or repairs.  To address this and other deficiencies, CELA filed an Application for Review under the Environmental Bill of Rights in late 2003.  CELA specifically requested the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to review and revise Regulation 903 in order to protect the environment and public health.  In early 2004, however, the MOE refused CELA’s request on the grounds that Regulation 903 was sufficiently protective.In last year’s Annual Report, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario rejected the MOE’s claims that Regulation 903 was adequate, and he stated that “to make the new regulation a truly effective tool for drinking water protection, the ministry should correct a number of technical deficiencies, clarify language to reflect on-the-ground practices, and think through the various enforcement challenges that need resolution in order to meet the intentions of Mr. Justice O’Connor [in his report from the Walkerton Inquiry]” (Annual Report 2003-04, page 113).In June 2004, the former Environment Minister, Leona Dombrowsky, referred the disinfection issue to the province’s Advisory Council on Drinking Water Quality and Testing Standards, which is an independent panel of experts appointed under the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002.Three months ago, the Advisory Council sent its advice letter on Regulation 903 to former Minister Dombrowsky.  The Advisory Council agreed with CELA’s view that the current disinfection requirements for well construction and repairs are “deficient” for numerous reasons.  Therefore, the Advisory Council specifically recommended that Regulation 903 should ensure that a rigorous five-step disinfection and sampling protocol is followed before wellwater is consumed after well construction or repair.The current Environment Minister, Laurel Broten, has not announced when – or if – the MOE intends to act upon the Advisory Council’s recommendations to fix the deficient Regulation, and has not publicly released the Advisory Council’s advice letter to date.