The Ontario government called a public inquiry after seven people died and over 2,300 became ill in May 2000 from drinking municipal tap water infected with a virulent strain of E. coli bacteria in the town of Walkerton, in the Lake Huron Watershed. The Part 1 report, issued in January 2002, found that the town failed to protect one of its wells from manure spread on a nearby farm and failed to adequately monitor water quality and disinfect the water sufficiently. The report also found serious shortcomings in the approvals and inspections programs at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment which, if operating properly, would have detected and corrected the terrible problems that plagued Walkerton’s public utilities commission.
The Part 2 report, not yet released at press time, will be about ensuring the safety of drinking water across Ontario, including wellhead protection through tighter land-use controls. The Walkerton Inquiry has arguably been the most important investigation ever into the links among land use, water quality, and human health in Ontario. You can access the Part 1 summary report (35 pages) atwww.walkertoninquiry.com. The full Part 1 report is also on the website, but since it is over 600 pages long, you may wish to order a bound copy by credit card from Publications Ontario at (416) 326-5300 or toll-free within Ontario at 1-800-668-9938. While there will be no Part 2 summary report, an equivalent summary will be found in Chapter 1 of the full Part 2 report, soon to be on the website.