News & Resources

Walkerton: from Water Tragedy to Water Excellence

05/31/10  • Water
EDITOR'S NOTE: In May 2000, seven people died and approximately 2,500 residents fell ill after Walkerton's drinking water supply was contaminated with E. coli bacteria. On May 16, 2010, the Brockton community reflected on the 10th anniversary with a commemoration at the former Well No. 5. The community continues to commemorate the 10th Anniversary, including educational and career activities on Tuesday, June 1.

BROCKTON, Ontario, May 31, 2010 - Ten years after it became known as a site of water infamy, Walkerton, Ontario is now a centre of water excellence. Today, as the city's water partner in a public-private partnership, Veolia Water Canada joins the town as it marks the 10th anniversary of the water tragedy by encouraging youth to become leaders in water management in North America.

The Municipality of Brockton (formerly Walkerton) is hosting a special career day on June 1 at the Walkerton District High School. Called Waves of Opportunity, it will offer area youth a chance to see how they can map out their own careers in water management. The town will also hear from special guest speaker Ryan Hreljac, founder of Ryan's Well Foundation, which has built 564 water projects in 16 countries, bringing safe water services to nearly 700,000 people.

"At the tragedy's onset, our community was terrified," said Brockton Mayor Charlie Bagnato. "Lives were lost, children were flown to specialists and thousands of our citizens experienced the intense cramps and bloody diarrhea associated with E coli infection. Obviously when you learn this occurred because of your water supply, one's trust in water no longer exists. Ten years later, we know that the quality and supply of our water is safe, that costs have been dramatically reduced, and that we can focus on the future, which includes water system excellence and water education."

Veolia Water Canada is one of several sponsors of the career fair and will mark the anniversary by donating $2,500 to the Water Environment Association of Ontario Scholarship Program, which supports promising students who are pursuing careers in water quality, wastewater treatment and watershed management.

The municipality selected Veolia as its private-sector partner to help manage its water and wastewater treatment systems in 2006. The partnership has saved Brockton approximately $2 million - an approximate 50% cost reduction over the previous operator -while achieving extremely high compliance with Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Health regulations. Brockton retains 100 percent ownership and control of its water and wastewater resources and systems. Veolia is contracted to manage those systems.

"What we've learned in Walkerton through a terrible tragedy is that we need professional management to keep our water safe, and we will need generations of people to follow the folks who are doing that work today," said Bruce Davidson, Vice Chair of Concerned Walkerton Citizens, which is helping to organize the anniversary events. "Before 2000, the provision of water was an after thought. Now, with the professional management we have today, it is the only thought. And that is as it should be. We want to expose the young people of this region to the fact there are lots of wonderful careers in the provision of safe water across Canada."

Multi-barrier approach to ensure safety 

"Brockton is a model for municipal delivery of very high quality water and wastewater services," said Mark Sanderson, vice president of major projects for Veolia Water Canada. "Working under the direction of the municipality, we have instituted a multi-barrier approach to protecting drinking water that prevents wells from contamination and ensures the water is treated and tested beyond regulatory requirements. Public health is our greatest priority."

After the tragedy in 2000, the Province of Ontario established a public inquiry known as the Walkerton Commission. Led by Chief Justice Dennis O'Connor, the inquiry recommended municipalities develop multi-barrier approaches to protecting drinking water.

This approach recognizes that there is always risk of failure for any technology or system. It reduces that risk by building many layers of protection. Ontario established the new rules in the Clean Water Act of 2006.
  1. Prevent contamination - the first step is to prevent contamination. Municipalities are required to develop water source protection plans on a watershed basis.
  2. Water treatment and distribution - Veolia Water Canada uses chlorination and ultra-violet disinfection systems to treat the town's drinking water. Each has a redundant back-up system in case of failure.
  3. Testing - The community complies with the Safe Drinking Water Act regulations, which dictates constant testing of the town's drinking at the source as well as in the distribution system. Veolia engages in additional testing and monitoring over and above the regulations.
  4. Training - Veolia ensures its personnel complete all proscribed training required by the Safe Drinking Water Act. Veolia personnel are also constantly trained on maintaining a safe work environment.
The Municipality of Brockton makes all water test results available to the public at the municipal office and via the town's website. 

Veolia Water Canada is part of Veolia Water North America, the leading provider of comprehensive water and wastewater partnership services to municipal and industrial customers, providing services to approximately 650 North American communities. The company is part of the Veolia Environnement companies in North America, with 30,000 North American employees providing sustainable environmental solutions in water management, waste services, energy management, and passenger transportation.

Veolia Water, the water division of Veolia Environnement, is the world leader in water and wastewater services and technological solutions. Its parent company, Veolia Environnement (NYSE: VE and Paris Euronext: VIE), is the worldwide reference in environmental services. With more than 312,000 employees, Veolia Environnement recorded annual revenues of $50 billion in 2009. Veolia Environnement is in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI World) and Dow Jones STOXX Sustainability Index (DJSI STOXX). Visit the company's Web sites at www.veolianorthamerica.com and www.veoliawaterna.com

Contact:
Scott Edwards
Veolia North America
312.552.2818
scott.edwards@veolia.com
Matt Demo
Veolia North America
312.552.2887 (office)
312.316.9281 (cell)
matt.demo@veolia.com