By Mike Anderson
The Town is backtracking on its plan to shut down all four public water taps in Georgina, electing to keep the tap at Black River Rd. and Park Rd. open for now.
However, the remaining three taps — High St. in Sutton, Kennedy Rd. in Willow Beach, and Boyers Rd. near Balfour Beach — will be closed the week of October 18.
The change follows pushback from rural residents, mainly from Ward 5, who were upset that a source of potable water – the public tap at Black River Rd – would be denied to them, as many of the private wells in the ward cannot be relied upon for safe drinking water.
Rob Flindall, Director of Operations and Infrastructure, initially proposed closing all the taps after presenting a briefing note to council on September 22, blaming commercial operators, mainly landscape companies, for putting the municipal water system at risk.
According to Flindall, commercial operators are accessing the public taps to avoid paying for water at the Town’s bulk water filling station, located at the Environmental Services Yard on Civic Centre Rd.
Flindall said they are hooking up large tanks to the taps — without proper backflow protection — potentially contaminating the municipal water supply with residue from fertilizers and pesticides.
He referenced Section 20 of the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, passed after the Walkerton water tragedy, as justification for the immediate shutdown, which allows public servants to be prosecuted if they knowingly allow contaminants to enter a municipal drink water system.
He also said that most municipalities in Ontario have already closed their public taps.
Regional Councillor Rob Grossi and Ward 5 Councillor Dave Harding challenged Flindall’s decision to close the taps without an interim solution in place.
However, Flindall responded by saying that residents had other options for potable water, including purchasing their drinking water from retailers like Walmart.
The arbitrary nature of the Town’s decision, closing the taps without a council vote, and the absence of any public consultation, together with Flindall’s remarks, upset many residents in Ward 5, who took to social media to express their opposition, with many contacting the Mayor directly.
On October 6, a chastened Flindall presented a follow-up briefing note to council, allowing the tap at Black River Rd. to remain open.
The tap will be fitted with a backflow valve to prevent possible contamination, security cameras installed, and public access controlled through a lock-box.
Flindall will also bring a staff report to council later this year with additional recommendations, possibly including, as Mayor Quirk suggested, moving the High St. tap to the Sutton Arena, where there is better access, more parking, and existing security cameras.
However, Flindall has indicated that only one or two taps will eventually remain open, and staff will be investigating options that include pay-for-use.
Dawn Zimmermann, who lives in Pefferlaw, relies on the public taps for her family’s drinking water.
While she is happy that the Black River Rd. tap will remain open, she believes the safety issue is a red herring. She says the Town has been aware of abuse by commercial users for years and has done nothing to mitigate it.
She points to the fact that no signage has been installed by the Town prohibiting commercial users; in fact, the only sign currently at the Black River Rd. tap relates to COVID-19.
She also says any safety concerns can be remedied by installing a backflow valve and replacing the threaded taps so that no one can connect a hose.
Zimmermann disputes Flindall’s assertion that other towns are closing public taps, pointing to Gravenhurst, St. Catharines and Waterloo, which, she says, have expanded free public access to drinking water.
“They are expanding access, and we’re restricting it,” she said.
Zimmermann also doesn’t believe rural residents, who must maintain wells and purification systems and don’t have access to municipal servicing, should have to pay for the tap water.
“Our taxes have already funded the water systems in York Region and The Town of Georgina, the water towers, plants, piping, water delivery, everything involved in that,” she said.
“We pay taxes at the same rate as everyone else in Georgina. Their water is delivered conveniently right into their house. We pay independently on top of our taxes to maintain our water and sceptics.”
Zimmermann says access to free drinking water is a basic human right.
“The fact is Georgina has a high number of at-risk children. So you’re going to have a bigger health crisis cutting off free access to water. And the people who cannot afford to go and buy water will drink well water that’s not safe,” she said.
“We just held the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. And how are we celebrating it? We’re cutting off free potable water, not only our residents but to the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation who also access those taps.”
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