OMWA - History

History of the Ontario Municipal Water Association (OMWA)

The Ontario Municipal Water Association is the voice of municipal public water supply in Ontario. Its members are public water supply owners and municipally owned operating authorities.

2000 - 2006

In May 2000, the Board of Directors voted, to ensure a strong and stable Board, to include three Directors-at-Large, with full voting privileges on the Board. They also amended the constitution to allow all members of the Board, not just political members, to hold the office of President.

In May of 2004, the Board of Directors renamed the Executive positions from President to Chair. This change more closely resembles the nomenclature of most traditional Board of Directors.

In May 2000, the water tragedy at Walkerton awoke the people of Ontario to the need to ensure a safe and reliable supply of water to the general public. An inquiry was called by the Government of Ontario. Doug James appeared on OMWA’s behalf for standing and funding at the Inquiry. He noted that Justice O’Connor encouraged coalitions and mergers with similar groups. OMWA and OWWA formed a coalition on the basis of closely aligned goals and objectives. It was decided to use OWWA’s lawyer Joe Castrilli, an experienced environmental lawyer. The Walkerton Inquiry turned down OMWA’s request for funding, except for $15,000.00 for original work on issue papers 10 & 11, but both OMWA and OWWA agreed to participate and share the costs equally from their own funds. The total budget was estimated to be $176,000.00.

One area of differences between the two Associations was on the issue of privatization. It was agreed that OMWA would pursue that issues separately and hire its own experts.

The Walkerton Inquiry was conducted in two parts. Part I dealt with the events and related issues of the events in May 2000 and Part II contained recommendations for the future safety of drinking water in Ontario. OMWA and OWWA had standing in Part II. Max Christie of OMWA was an expert on a witness panel in Part I where the commissioner examined the issue of Training and Certification. The OMWA reviewed and developed papers for Part II on issues such as privatization and governance.

The initial OWWA Walkerton Committee was chaired by Doug James, and included Dick Beck, Max Christie, Sharon Crosby, Jerry Klaus, Angus Read, Robert Walton and Jim Craig.

OMWA and OWWA formed a Joint Executive Committee, originally Chaired by Judy MacDonald of OWWA to work with both Boards on submissions to Part II of the Inquiry. Joe Castrilli was retained as legal counsel for the committee. When Judy left Ontario to pursue other interests, Rod Holme of OWWA and a Past President of AWWA replaced her as Chair.

In 2002 Justice Dennis O’Connor, Chair of the Inquiry, thanked the Ontario Municipal Water Association and the Ontario Water Works Association for the "singularly high quality” of their submissions and noted that the participation of the two organizations: "had been invaluable in considering his recommendations”.

The Joint Executive Committee remained in place following the Walkerton Inquiry to prepare briefs and make recommendations on various pieces of legislation that has resulted from the recommendations from Justice O’Connor’s Inquiry into the tragedy at Walkerton.

While the Walkerton Inquiry and subsequent legislation and regulations took up much of the time and resources of OMWA, its Board of Directors recognized in 2001 that backflow prevention and cross connection presented a potentially serious source of water contamination. It was noted that water authorities have no control over backflow/cross connections as it falls under the plumbing code with no provision for re-inspection or regular testing.

In September of 2001, Doug Parker, former General Manager of the Belleville Utilities Commission and an elected City Councillor in Belleville, replaced Jim Craig as Executive Director.

In February of 2002, OMWA, under the leadership of Mark Howson and Jim Craig, the new OMWA website went live on the internet. There have been over 264,000 hits on the site for the past 12 months.

In 2002, the Joint OMWA/OWWA Joint Executive Committee made submissions on the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result of those submissions both Associations were asked by the Minister of the Environment, the Hon. Chris Stockwell to be in the public gallery when the legislation was introduced. He also publicly acknowledged members of both Associations that day.

For many years, OMWA advocated low interest or no interest loans to water authorities to rebuild aging infrastructure. It also advocated the elimination of grants as it was seen to be a reward to those who had not properly invested in their infrastructure. OMWA met with successive Minister of the Environment on this concept. In 2002, the government, through the Ontario Financing Authority, announced a low interest loan scheme to help remain aging infrastructure for all public sectors in Ontario.

In 2003, OMWA passed a resolution asking the government to provide ongoing mandatory education for all persons who set local policy and who had oversight responsibilities for water supply such as Councillors, Commissioners and Board members to ensure that such persons have sufficient knowledge to fulfill their responsibilities. In the absence of a formal training program the OMWA, produced the OMWA Councillors Handbook 2004-Statuatory Standard of Care. It was distributed to all members of OMWA who have oversight responsibilities, including mayors, reeves, councillors and senior staff.

In 2004, the membership was very concerned about the effects of Reg. 170/03 on Small Municipal and Non Residential Systems. A resolution was passed and forwarded on to the Minister of the Environment to implement new regulations under Reg. 170/03 that would set up a risk management system under the Public Health System. A similar submission was submitted by the Joint OMWA/OWWA Executive Committee supporting OMWA’s position on this matter. In May 2005, the Minister announced changes to Reg. 170/03 to address OMWA’s concerns.

Since Walkerton, OMWA/OWWA through, the Joint Executive Committee has made several submissions to the government on legislation, regulations and other water related issues. The submissions include; The Proposed Components of a Safe Drinking Water Act, Certification of Drinking Water Systems Operations and Water Analysts, Reg. 170,Final Report of the Advisory Committee Watershed based Source Water Protection, Draft Nutrient Management Act, Stages 1 and 2, Watershed Based Source Protection, Drinking Water Source Protection, Regulation to Take Water, Bill 175, Sustainable Water and Sewage Act 2002 (2),Infrastructure Renewal Discussion Paper- Places to Grow, Discussion Paper on Infrastructure Renewal, Draft on the Permit to Take Water Manual 2004, Technical Expert Committee on Source Water Protection and MPIR’s Expert Panel, Chaired by Harry Swain.

The Ontario Municipal Water Association is unique in not only Ontario but in Canada in that its sole purpose is to be a political organization advocating for municipally owned water systems. It has no competing interests, which gives OMWA the autonomy to take political positions, in the best interests of its membership and petition government to act accordingly.

OMWA, from its inception has formed and strengthened close ties with the Ontario Water Works Association. It continues to meet on a regular basis with senior staff at MOE and its members participate on various provincial committee. The value of OMWA’s expertise is recognized by the government, which consult on a regular basis with the Association.

Membership in OMWA continues to grow. In 2005, there are over 180 members serving over 7,000,000 drinking water customers. We are proud to have strong representation from Northern Ontario.

In late 2005, OMWA arranged a meeting for the Joint OMWA/OWWA Executive Committee with MPIR staff to discuss the Water Strategy Report. OMWA was informed that a "white paper” would be issued in 2006 and that committee was encouraged to submit comments prior to its issuance. The Joint OMWA/OWWA Executive Committee made a lengthy submission including ownership of municipal water systems must remain with the public, implementation of full cost accounting and responsibility for water rates remain with the municipal councils. OMWA was also invited by the Minister of Environments policy staff for an in depth presentation on the proposed source water protection plans.

With a grant from the Ministry of the Environment, OMWA set up a Steering Committee comprised of representatives from OWWA, WEAO and OMBI to revise the Operator in Training Manuel. The committee issued an RFP and a contractor, XCG Consulting, was hired to update the Manuel. The OIT Manuel is owned by OMWA and it is distributed by OETC (now OWWCO) and OMWA receives a royal payment on all books sold.

2006 - 2013   TODAY