An examination of opportunities for small non-community drinking water systems to improve drinking water safety




Pons, Wendy

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University of Guelph


Waterborne diseases are among the world’s most significant yet largely preventable public health issues. A large number of waterborne disease outbreaks in developed countries are attributed to water from small, non-municipal water systems (SDWSs). This thesis is an investigation of the challenges and opportunities to improve the safety of the water supply in SDWSs, with a focus on systems located in Ontario. This thesis utilized data from a systematic review, SDWS data from Ontario, a cross sectional survey of SDWS operators and focus groups of public health inspectors. These data were used to (1) summarize factors contributing to SDWS outbreaks (2) investigate the relationships between certain key characteristics of SDWSs and the performance of these systems, and (3) explore the experience and future training needs of SWDS operators and public health inspectors in Ontario. This research found the leading causes of outbreaks in SDWSs were the failure of an existing water treatment system (22.7%) and lack of water treatment (20.2%). In Ontario, 66% of water operators were not trained and 16% had one year or less experience. Thirty four percent of systems utilized water treatment and 45% operated on a seasonal basis. The odds of having a positive E. coli test result were greater in systems using ground and surface water with treatment compared to ground water with no treatment (apparently indicating the failure of an existing water treatment system). Operators had a preference for online training courses or on-site training. SDWS inspectors reported needing support in the form of education initiatives and a community of practice to promote knowledge exchange. Main concerns to water safety were the technical ability of the water operator and having a long time period between inspections of water systems. The findings of this research help identify opportunities to target training to specific groups of operators. There is a need to further explore the effectiveness of water treatment and other water protection measures currently in place in SDWSs in Ontario. Future research is needed to explore the cost-benefit of increasing inspection frequency and to explore a variety of education initiatives for inspectors and operators of SDWSs.



Drinking water, Canada, Ontario, Small drinking water systems, waterborne disease, drinking water operator, Public health inspector, Public health