People like David Rudolph, a professor of earth sciences and hydrogeologist at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, say many positive developments have occurred in the wake of the Walkerton disaster, a deadly outbreak of E. coli in the water supply of Walkerton, Ontario, late last spring. Already, he says, there has been a flood of people taking renewed responsibility to have their wells tested. There is greater awareness of the importance of maintaining these wells so structural vulnerabilities allowing contaminants to enter are minimized. And because Walkerton demonstrated serious communication gaps as well as infrastructure weaknesses, there will be much closer scrutiny of the way management systems are run.

Rudolph reports that Ontario is becoming particularly proactive in its attempts to minimize impact of new development on water sources. Wellhead guidelines, which prohibit construction of such things as gas stations or manufacturing plants near wells and other water sources, are becoming more commonplace.

There also is a growing movement to improve land use processes. Today, some 18,000 Ontario farmers are voluntary participants in the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan, a program that helps them manage fertilizer use much more prudently.

Finally, there is a growing sense that Canadians are prepared to put significant pressure on the government to make environmental issues, including water management and quality, a greater priority.

Peter Huck, a professor in the University of Waterloo's civil engineering department, says he believes Canadians will be much more willing to support increased investment in the system to bolster research, prevention, treatment, testing, monitoring and troubleshooting. And while he realizes public attention and concern over our water supply may fade into the background as other issues arise, he insists Walkerton has served as a crucial wake-up call.

"We needed more vigilance, and that's happening right now," Huck says. "And the steps that are being taken as a result of the Walkerton tragedy will have long-lasting positive effects."

This is the final installment of a three-part article. Reprinted with permission from the University of Waterloo Magazine, Fall 2000.