Ontario municipalities on a path towards a higher standard for the management of wastewater and stormwater systems

Edgar Tovilla is co-author of the Open Access Paper "Examining the emerging environmental protection policy convergence in the Ontario municipal drinking water, wastewater and stormwater sectors" (Water Quality Research Journal, Aug 2017, 52 (3) 209-228).

Here he summarises the article and how it supports efforts for higher standards across drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems.

This article exposes deficiencies on the Ontario regulatory framework for the wastewater and stormwater sectors. The modern drinking water regulations enacted in response to the Walkerton tragedy (2000), transferred many roles and responsibilities previously held by the Province of Ontario and modernized how municipalities manage the infrastructure planning up to operations. In reaction to Walkerton, the regulators mandated adherence to a quality management standard largely based on the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001 standard. While the municipal drinking water sector and its regulations were modernized, the management of wastewater and stormwater is still a patchwork of different regulations that date back to the 1950s. This phenomenon has created a regulatory unbalance for systems administered by the same owners.

This article claims that over the past 10 years, Ontario municipalities have developed a significant mass balance of knowledge in ISO-type of standards, which is been proactively migrating into the wastewater and stormwater municipal sectors. Since 2010, amendments to the provincial regulatory framework in Ontario are support a risk-based approach for wastewater and stormwater for the municipal (and industrial) sectors. Through these changes, legislation for wastewater and stormwater is being ‘calibrated’ to mirror that of the drinking water more modern framework. The law and courts are also providing another impetus for this policy convergence in the form of a legal requirement that municipalities comply with a formal EMS, and or specifically referencing the ISO 14001 standard.

This article provides the basis to support the idea of developing a provincially required Wastewater and Stormwater Management Standard that is aligned with the ISO 14001 (EMS), thus tending to ensure a harmonized and consistent approach across the drinking water, wastewater and stormwater contexts.  The authors observe an environmental policy convergence occurring across the drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater of municipal water activities with respect to governance approaches.

There are five municipalities in Ontario with ISO 14001 certifications for either water or wastewater systems. While this is a small number considering that there are 444 municipalities in Ontario, it represents approximately 2.7 million people, or 20% of the province. Considering that larger municipalities in Ontario are actively pursuing an EMS for their wastewater and stormwater systems, collectively, they represent 67% of Ontario’s population and therefore their EMS adoption is likely to have an effect on the remaining municipalities.

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