A panel of experts has been formed to advise the
Ontario government how to best manage its water and
wastewater infrastructure and systems.
Solutions must ensure infrastructure remains public, water rates stay affordable
BY GRANT CAMERON
A panel of experts has been formed to advise the Ontario government how to best manage its water and wastewater infrastructure and systems.
The panel, consisting of a doctor, administrator and economics professor, has also been asked to come up with ideas on how to organize, deliver and finance the systems, determine what investments are needed and how people should pay for the services.
The catch is that the panel must come up with a solution that ensures the infrastructure stays in public hands.
The panel must also ensure that water rates remain affordable.
As part of the exercise, a series of consultations will take place over the coming months.
The panel will meet with individuals, large and small municipalities, municipal and environmental organizations, plant operators, engineering and public works experts, economic and financial experts, business and industry groups, and consumer and user groups.
A report is expected to be delivered to government by the end of the year. The report will be released publicly and make recommendations on Ontario’s longterm water and wastewater infrastructure investment and financing strategy.
The steps were welcomed by a number of groups, including the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Contractors Association (OSWCA), which represents more than 700 companies in the province.
Sam Morra, executive director of the association, said he’s pleased to see the panel formed.
“We are encouraged to see this welcome step forward. This committee’s work will be important in ensuring that we address the province’s water and sewer needs, both now and in the future.
“The OSWCA has long been an advocate of ensuring that our water and sewage systems are both sustainable and affordable,” said Morra.
“The policies and recommendations of this panel will be aimed at making our water and sewage systems financially sustainable—we welcome that progress.”
Morra said it’s also heartening to see the government acknowledge the critical financial needs of the sector.
“We commend the government for taking this key ‘next step’ in ending the generation of neglect of our water and sewage systems.
“We are confident that the government is sincere in ensuring that the policies and regulations that are needed will follow this important work.”
David Caplan, Ontario’s Minister of Public Infrastructure Renewal, said the government is trying to ensure that municipal water and wastewater systems continue to work properly.
“The most important thing our government can do is to lay the groundwork now for safe and clean drinking water through the proper long-term management of Ontario’s water and wastewater infrastructure,” Caplan said.
The government says the Walkerton crisis of 2000 highlighted the public health risks associated with improper management of water and wastewater systems.
In the winter of 2003, eight expert studies were also completed on a range of water and wastewater issues. The studies indicated that very large capital investments in water and wastewater infrastructure were needed and will continue to be needed for a considerable period of time.
The studies also found that, although there are variations across Ontario, an average household pays less than $50 per month for water services in almost two thirds of municipalities.
In general, the study found that users are not paying the full amount that it actually costs municipalities to provide water and wastewater services on a sustainable basis.
The government says limited funds are available for investment in rehabilitation, renovation and expansion and some municipalities do not have the resources to invest in needed renewal. For others, the cost of making the improvements would make water too expensive.
The government says multi-billiondollar capital investments are required for an extended period to bring distribution and treatment systems into a state of good repair and to allow for expansion.
The panel includes:
• Dr. Harry Swain, who was chair of the Walkerton Research Advisory Panel and is a frequent speaker on water provision and governance policy issues;
• Jim Pine, chief administrative officer of the County of Hastings, and a member of the Implementation Committee of the Expert Source Water Protection Committee which provides advice to the Ontario government;
• Professor Fred Lazar, an economist who is Associate Professor of Economics at York University and the Schulich School of Business.