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'Clean water is a human right': Georgina in hot water after shutting off public taps

Georgina residents now need a key to access public water tap at Black River and Park roads
Oct. 25, 2021
Amanda Persico

Water is the source of life. And for many rural Georgina residents the tap is being shut off.

The town has closed three of its four public taps and that has local residents concerned about the future of their free water source.

Public taps are exactly that -- a tap coming up from the ground that provides access to free, municipally treated water for residents who live on wells.

“I have to travel and transport my own containers,” said rural resident Dawn Zimmermann, who fills up at the public taps about once a month for drinking water.

“I don’t have the luxury of clean water coming out of my taps.

The public water tap at Black River and Park roads remains open, as it is the “newest” of the four taps. The town recently installed a backflow prevention valve to prevent contamination within the municipal water system.

Residents require a key to access the tap. Keys are available at the town’s environmental services yard at 26817 Civic Centre Rd.

Over the years, the town has received numerous complaints about commercial or industrial trucks and tanks filling up at the free water taps resulting in hours-long waits for residents wanting to fill household jugs and totes for drinking water.

Water contamination is also concern, as tankers sometimes use the same hose to connect to the public taps as to fill up on fertilizers and such, said the town’s operations and infrastructure director, Rob Flindall.

“There doesn’t have to be much pressure difference to cause that back siphonage,” he said.

Commercial users, including those in the landscaping, concrete manufacturing, canning or pickling and street cleaning industries, are supposed to use the town’s pay-per-use commercial water filling station on Civic Centre Road.

Adding lights and security cameras to the location and enclosing the tap in a structure that requires a key, is one way to deter commercial use, Flindall added.

While a quick fix, it’s not ideal.

The town is looking at other options, similar to other “cottage” municipalities, where public taps are located in more accessible locations with proper lighting, security, monitoring and parking such as near community centres or fire halls.

Before moving in that direction and spending thousands of taxpayer dollars, the town needs to know how many residents rely on the taps, how often and how much water is being used.

A staff report is expected to come back to council later this fall.

“They’ve taken a hammer to kill a flea,” Zimmerman said.

There are concerns the free public taps will be converted into a metered, pay-as-you-go or prepaid water system.

“Potable drinking water is a fundamental right,” said Karen Wolfe with the Pefferlaw Association of Ratepayers.

“And access to potable water is a fundamental obligation and responsibility of any municipality. When people lack access to clean water, the impacts can be profound.”

Not to mention, areas such as Virginia Beach and Georgina Island First Nation have difficulty drilling deep wells for potable water, Wolfe added.

“There have been people from (Georgina Island First Nation) filling a cube van of jugs for family and neighbours in community and then taking the ferry back to the island,” Zimmermann said.

Since 2017, the Georgina Island has been under a boil water advisory -- one of 35 remaining long-term water advisories left in the province.

Having only one tap available could lead to overcrowding and could become a public health risk.

“Clean water is a human right,” Zimmermann said. “Cutting off potable water is creating a much bigger health risk.”

Under provincial legislation, water has to pay for water, Flindall explained, in that water and wastewater revenue pay for the municipal water supply and treatment system.

For more, call 905-476-3457 x3924 or visit the town’s water and wastewater webpage.