Next Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, a special Kingston City Council meeting will be held in order to brief members on their duties and responsibilities under the provincial government’s Safe Drinking Water Act, 2022. According to the Act, local councillors must exercise a “standard of care” when it comes to making decisions about the municipality’s drinking water systems.
A Utilities Kingston report to Council published ahead of Wednesday’s meeting states, “Section 19 [the Standard of Care section of the Act] expressly extends legal responsibility to people with decision-making authority over municipal drinking water systems and those who oversee the operating authority for the system. Specifically, that they exercise the level of care, diligence, and skill regarding a municipal drinking water system that a reasonably prudent person would be expected to exercise in a similar situation.” The standard of care will officially extend to the new City Council beginning on January 1, 2023. Wednesday’s meeting is meant to ensure all representatives are aware of their responsibilities as outlined in the act.
The Utilities Kingston report recommends that Council accept a document titled Taking Care of Your Drinking Water: A Guide for Members of Municipal Councils, which has been prepared by the provincial government. The document provides an overview of the important role city councillors play in maintaining drinking water throughout the municipality.
“The people of Ontario are entitled to expect safe, high-quality drinking water. It is a matter vital to public health. As a member of a municipal council, you have an important role to play to ensure your community has access to safe, high-quality drinking water — and you may be legally obliged to do so,” the document reads.
The report also recommends that Utilities Kingston “keep Council informed and seek opportunities for providing training on the operation, maintenance, and state of repair of the municipal drinking water system.”
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, members of Kingston City Council could be found personally liable when it comes to decisions made regarding the City’s drinking water system. The act states that councillors are expected to “act honestly, competently and with integrity, with a view to ensuring the protection and safety of the users of the municipal drinking water system.” According to the act, councillors who fail to exercise their standard of care may face potential fines or imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offence.
Where Kingston’s drinking water system is concerned, City Council is actually considered the “owner,” while Utilities Kingston acts as the “operating authority.” Together, Council and Utilities Kingston work in tandem to oversee the safe operation of Kingston’s municipal drinking water system, such as ensuring water is safe to drink, while also carrying out any necessary maintenance and infrastructure improvements.
Individual city councillors are encouraged to regularly ask questions about drinking water operations and remain vigilant with respect to potential complacency. As the report states, ”It is critical you never take drinking water safety for granted or assume all is well with drinking water systems under your care and direction. The health of your community depends on your diligent and prudent oversight of its drinking water.”