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Examining the implications of changing legislation for communal drinking water and wastewater systems in Ontario's rural communities

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Title: Examining the implications of changing legislation for communal drinking water and wastewater systems in Ontario's rural communities
Author: Simon, Paul
Department: School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
Program: Rural Planning and Development
Advisor: FitzGibbon, JohnSimpson, Hugh
Abstract: Water resource management in rural communities is of vital importance. One large aspect of this is private water servicing. Communal systems in particular have undergone significant regulatory changes for both drinking water and wastewater systems. For small drinking water systems, this has meant a change in monitoring requirements, sampling, as well as reporting specifications. The changes in regulations have impacted three groups of stakeholders including municipalities, public health units, as well as private owners. Through key informant interviews with these groups of stakeholders throughout southern Ontario, it became clear that there are implications of changing legislation for rural communities. This research was undertaken through two main data collection processes; a document review of relevant legislation, and key informant interviews with subject matter experts from municipalities, public health units, as well as the private sector. The data collected through these research methods provided interesting insights into how changing legislation has impacted private communal water system development in Ontario. The changes in drinking water regulations have resulted in significant changes to the monitoring requirements of drinking water systems. The downloading of these responsibilities from the province to the public health units created a tense transition period. Public health units can now be more proactive about monitoring as they have conducted initial risk assessments and better understand how many and what type of operations are occurring in their jurisdiction. Furthermore, it appears that most private owners have good relationships and communication with the public health units, which indicated that to at least some extent, the downloading of monitoring has been successful. Changes in regulations surrounding wastewater system development have significantly impacted how development occurs in rural Ontario. This has mainly come in the form of Municipal Responsibility Agreements. Municipalities must sign one of these agreements to ensure that adequate liability measures are accounted for whenever development based on a wastewater system that is year round and communal in nature is proposed. By increasing the liability for municipalities (as opposed to the province who has resources that are more capable of dealing with communal servicing), they are more reluctant to enter into one of these agreements. As a result, many municipalities are promoting development in areas already serviced or, on an individual site basis. This conflicts with the servicing hierarchy set out in the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) where communal servicing is preferred over individual. The inability of municipalities to conform to the PPS could have an impact on sustainable development objective in rural Ontario. There were indications from all three groups of stakeholders that provincial involvement and aid are significantly lacking in rural communities. For public health units, this lack of support was mainly during the initial changes in regulations. All stakeholders indicated that if a similar downloading was to occur for wastewater systems, significantly more resources would need to be available from the province. For municipalities, there is no educational support regarding Municipal Responsibility Agreements, and hence, many jurisdictions do not understand the proper way to draft one while maintaining a balance of liability coverage and economic growth. For wastewater development, private owners suggested that their contact with the province is minimal, especially in comparison with their drinking water systems that are regulated through the province as opposed to the public health units. There appears to be a lack of communication between all groups of stakeholders when it comes to understanding the other group's perspectives around this type of water system development. Having provincial authorities provide more educational resources and support when municipalities are looking to approve development requiring communal services would reap positive benefits for all stakeholders. An evaluation of the approval process has determined that under the current regulatory regime, communal servicing is ultimately discouraged through multiple barriers to approval and as a result, the Provincial Policy Statement is not being implemented to its fullest potential creating a situation where sustainable economic development is compromised in rural Ontario.
Date: 2015
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