Erin reviewing communication ‘protocol’ after boil water advisory

March 24 watermain break led to two-day boil water advisory

ERIN – Town staff will be returning to council with a report on the communication flow following a watermain break on March 24 and a subsequent boil water advisory.

Councillor Bridget Ryan brought a motion forward on March 28 compelling staff to clarify what happened, key roles and responsibilities, and an action plan to notify residents “in an expedient manner” in the future.

As the Erin Mayor’s Breakfast was underway on the morning of March 24, construction crews performing work related to the town’s new wastewater treatment plant broke through the watermain at Main and Water Streets.

The town’s water operations manager, the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), issued a boil water advisory and OCWA regional manager Caralynn McRae — though avoiding several specific, itemized questions from the Advertiser — wrote in an email that the advisory was “standard precautionary procedure” because of the “possible risk of contamination.”

The town posted notices of the advisory to social media channels that morning, but comments, also posted on social media sites, suggested several residents were unaware the advisory was in effect, only finding out about it from a community Facebook page.

The advisory was lifted on March 26, presumably once water samples came back clear.

Councillor Cathy Aylard said at an April 13 meeting there’s a “huge opportunity” for the town to improve in the area of communication, and she advocated for a “full-blown educational campaign.”

Aylard spoke to allocating funding for what she believes will be resources needed to get the message out.

“Up until a few days ago I had people stalking me in the grocery store and asking me if they still had to boil water, which is rather concerning,” Aylard said.

“The message is not getting out.”

An education campaign of the likes Aylard is advocating for would succeed if “every single person in the community knows where to find this information through whatever media they’re comfortable with.”

“There was no allocation to any of this in the 2023 budget … and this might be one case where we call in the experts,” she remarked.

“I’m quickly learning that if it’s not allocated in the budget, it doesn’t get done.”

Erin fire Chief Jim Sawkins said he’s looking into options, which won’t bring additional costs aside from salary considerations, to get notices out.

“There is no program out there that we can jump into that we can buy into that will expedite that communication piece to our public,” Sawkins told council last week.

“We have to develop a protocol, which I’m currently working on, in order to roll out that communication notification to the residents so they are aware of what’s going on.”

Sawkins had met with Aylard prior to the meeting and spoke of the “several different approaches” he began looking at once the advisory was lifted. The chief has also met with the county and aims to have a protocol ready by the end of the month.

Council voted unanimously to carry Ryan’s motion forward, requiring town staff to return with the requested report.

A specific date for the future report was not stated.